When Lee Schram became CEO of Deluxe Corp. in 2006, he faced a problem.
People were writing fewer and fewer checks and businesses were using fewer paper forms. Schram, who publicly announced his retirement Friday, had to find a way of taking the company into a more digital future.
“In his 12 years as CEO, Deluxe has transformed from what was essentially a checks and forms printer into a provider of digital technology services including data-driven marketing and treasury management solutions to the financial services industry and web services to small businesses,” Martyn Redgrave, Deluxe’s nonexecutive chairman, said in a release.
Beth Lilly, founder of Crocus Hill Partners, said a stock dip Friday likely indicated concern over who will take over for Schram.
“Lee Schram has been the architect of the multiyear transformation at Deluxe,” said Lilly, whose value-oriented investment firm, focused on small and micro-cap companies, has followed Deluxe over the years and is a St. Paul neighbor of Schram.
The company’s board will conduct a search that it estimates will take about six months, and Schram will step down from both his position and the board at that time.
“I don’t believe I’m the only guy who can do what I do here,” said Schram, 56.
Yet Schram had to make some tough decisions to get the company where it is now.
His initial years were a struggle as revenue continued to slide from a peak year in 2005 when the company recorded $1.7 billion in revenue. He had to close call centers and manufacturing facilities and order the related layoffs.
During those years, he also made more than two-dozen deals to reshape the company and build the small business service offerings that would drive profitable growth. By 2010, he had reversed the revenue slide and the company has now grown annual revenue for eight straight years.
Deluxe reported record revenue and profits in 2017 with sales of $1.96 billion, up 6.3 percent over 2016 and record profits of $250.7 million, up 9.3 percent over the previous year.
Deluxe now is on path for a ninth straight year of revenue growth and another record year of profits.
Shares of Deluxe closed at $70.70 Friday, down more than 3.4 percent and are now down more than 9 percent year-to-date.
Schram said he has left his options open for his next chapter; in the short time since he made the announcement, first internally and then publicly, he has received inquiries but he was noncommittal on future plans.
“There are some other things I want to do personally and professionally,” Schram said.
He said in July 2015 he is unlikely to stay in Minnesota because he has family in Ohio and South Carolina.
Schram began his career at NCR Corp. and rose to senior vice president of the retail solutions group before joining Deluxe.
Schram said his legacy is pretty simple wherever he’s run things, and he hopes the same is true for Deluxe.
“When I was in it, things got better, and when I left, it continued to get better,” he said.