Roth and his daughters give new meaning to the phrase "spending quality time together." They're shown here protesting on behalf of Gyaltsen Drolkar, an imprisoned Tibetan nun known as one of the Drapchi 14 - a group of nuns imprisoned for peacefully demonstrating for Tibetan independence. Roth has links supporting their cause (www.drapchi14.org) and other sites related to human rights on Mirror Image's website.
The Drapchi 14 protest, which was planned by Roth's local Amnesty International group, was the largest protest in Cambridge, MA since Vietnam, drawing 7,000 people to demonstrate Chinese President Jeang Zemin's visit to Harvard in 1997.
Rich Roth and U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy(D-RI), right, display an awesome example of Mirror Image's screenprinting capabilities, and one of Roth's favorite causes, Amnesty's International's dedication to global human rights.
on the edge
Five Maverick CEO's
By Michele Bell
There's something you should know right from the get-go about the five people who personify our definition of "maverick" - visionary, willing to take risks (and to fail), always challenging, never complacent: They're not normal. At least normal in the sense of traditional, businesslike and by-the-book. These five people - four men, one woman; two suppliers and three distributors - don't even own the book, nor do they care to borrow anyone else's. Cut from the same mold as trailblazers like Southwest Airlines' now-retired founder, CEO, and enigmatic rule-breaker-in-residence for 35 years, Herb Kelleher, these five upstarts have steered their startups with one guiding principle: No nonsense - No boundaries - No fear.
We're willing to bet you've never met anyone quite like Rick Roth, president and owner of Mirror Image Inc., a Pawtucket, RI-based screenprinting distributorship. In business for 14 years, his company brings in about $2.5 million annually and has garnered a slew of screenprinting and imprinting awards. Sounds pretty average, right?
But then there's this - the first indicator that Roth isn't your run-of-the-mill company president: He was once interviewed by a prominent publication wearing a T-shirt screenprinted with a quote from Eugene Debs: "While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While the is a soul in prison, I am not free. While there is a Tigers game, I am in the bleachers."
As you might imagine, his business - with this self-proclaimed "unrepentant hippie" at the helm - is a refuge and safe haven for the artistic counterculture. A large number of his employees are musicians, painters, writers, illustrators and filmmakers, and the "dress code" is dictated by the pony-tailed Roth himself: "Piercings and tattoos appreciated, but not required," he says, adding, "We care about people and how they get their work done, not what they look like."
Perhaps this attitude is why the majority of his employees came with him when he moved his company from Cambridge, MA to Pawtucket, RI, most having been with him for years. Loyalty like that is a rare commodity in this day and age.
At 48, Roth says his attitudes were shaped by his family and friends, growing up in the '60s, surrounded by the Vietnam War and the prevailing attitude that status quo doesn't have to be everyone's M.O. He's proudly pro-Union, his company is stauchly "anti-meeting." And his over-arching philosophy? "Change of die."
Honored with Impressions magazine's first annual "Decorator of the Year" award in its December 2001 issue, Roth and his company are known for quality and trustworthiness. But almost equally well-known is Roth's well publicized social conscience. If you click on the "About Us" link on his website (www.mirrorimage.com), you'll find press clippings about Roth, his company and a commitment to social change that would make a New York PR agent swoon.
When the media does come calling, they usually find Roth just doing his thing, very unassuming in his "Farm Aid" baseball cap. He doesn't own a TV, lives his hectic life on very little sleep, loves punk rock (the Replacements, Gang Green and Minor Threat) and goes to see local bands religiously - because as he says, "hearing music is more important to me than sleep."
He's been arrested for protesting against a nuclear power plant, amoung other causes, and counts Amnesty International, Farm Aid and Oxfam (a British-based famine relief organization), amoung the numerous charities he supports. He's been involved in local, grassroots activism groups for years and runs Amnesty International's merchandise program. His history and passion with this organization in particlular is long and impressive.
In the early 1990s, as coordinator of an Amnesty Int'l. chapter in Somerville, MA, Roth led a campaign that raised $30,000 and won political asylum for the family of Jose Sotz, a Guatemalan trade unionist who had been the victim of an assassination attempt that left his three-year-old son a paraplegic. Sotz now works for Roth at Mirror Image.
Then there's the Web site that Roth and a group of seventh graders in Quincy, MA, created to draw attention to the murder of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy, Iqbal Masih. Sold into slavery at the age of four and escaping at the age of 10, the boy was killed for speaking out against child labor. Due directly to the site, Roth and the students have raised enough money to build a school (and make improvements on others) in honor of the child in Muridke, his village in Pakistan.
Integrating his charitable activism with his work, Roth often talks to suppliers and customers, asking them to donate time, supplies, artwork - whatever they can give. "If you make it easy for people to do good, they usually will," he says. His employees, who are as devoted to him as he is to them, often cover for Roth when he's out doing his charitable work. "I have really great employees, and I couldn't do what I do without them," he confesses.
In addition to his altruistic endeavors, Roth shows unwavering support for his employees. He was the one who suggested that his company be a union shop, and he pays his employees well, absorbing 100% of their top-of-the-line health benefit costs. He encourages them in their artistic endeavors, saying he's very cognizant of the fact that "people have a life, and in no way do I expect them to treat their jobs as more important than that. It's debilitating to make people feel otherwise.
"Traditionally, companies have had the attitude that you make money by paying people as little as possible and beating as much work out of them as you can," he continues. " I don't understand that. The whole hierarchy thing is a waste of time, and therefore of money. Upper-management people are always way too involved with the politics of their company and having meetings while they should be working."
Roth also throws rowdy and raucous holiday and summer parties for his employees, complete with bands and pinatas filled with rather unique prizes. "People have ended up dancing on the machinery more than once," he laughs.
But don't let his power-to-the-people approach fool you - it's not all parties and picketing at Mirror Image. Roth is acutely aware that he can only do good for his family, his employees and others if his business brings in money. "I take it very seriously," he says. "People's livelihoods are at stake; they're dependent upon me."
When his company was given the contract to print this year's Super Bowl winning-New England Patriot shirt (of which they did "tens of thousands" in a span of 18 grueling hours), they were lauded for their quick turnaround and quality product. On any given day, Mirror Image produces average runs of 950 pieces and can print 1,050 shirts per hour. In the not-to-distant future, Roth wants to double his sales to $5 million and increase his staff from 25 to 40. "My goal is to make more money so I can pay my employees more and so I can do more for the causes I care about," he explains.
He's also very proud of his family; Roth's three daughters and one step-daughter dispel the myth that children turn conservative as a backlash to liberal, left wing parents. His daughters definitely did not fall far from the hippie tree. "There's this great story of my twin daughters, Christina and Allison, who are 18," he says, "One time when they were little and in their crib, they were singing, "USA-CIA, out of Nicaragua!" he laughs.
He'd love to keep talking about the things he loves - his kids, his employees, his causes, his music - but Roth says he has to go now. You see, U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) is coming to Mirror Image today, and there's a litany of issues on the topics of human rights and the environment that Roth plans to take up with him...