Executive Q&A: Rick Clendenning, President and CEO of INX International Ink Co.

QP: Tell us about INX International Ink Co.

Clendenning: INX International Ink Co. is the third largest producer of inks in North America and a global supplier as part of Sakata INX worldwide. We are headquartered in Schaumburg, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and have more than 20 facilities in the US and Canada. We also have a world class R&D technology center located in the Chicago area that has developed many new products and technologies. Combined with INX Digital International Co., we will present some new offerings to an international audience of commercial and digital printers this year at drupa.

QP: What is your background and how did you get involved with INX?

Clendenning: I started in the ink industry in 1971, so for 41 years I have been involved with the same company for the entire time. I first joined Acme Printing Ink, and it was the first ink company in a series of acquisitions made by Sakata INX that began in the late 1980s. When I started at Acme, I worked the night shift as a tub washer and mill trainee because I was finishing my last two years at the University of California-Fullerton. When I graduated with my business and marketing degrees, management asked me to stay with the company and work in the laboratory. I did, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

QP: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in this market?

Clendenning: I consider myself very lucky to learn this business from the ground up by doing every job within our industry. As I travel and visit our facilities today, it gives me a great deal of creditability with my colleagues. They know I once was in their shoes and I understand exactly what they experience day in and day out.

I feel fortunate to travel worldwide and believe I have accomplished many things in my 41 years, but my greatest achievement is having worked hard to learn every aspect of this industry and building trust of the great people who work at INX and being their leader. I’m honored to be in my position today.

QP: If you could change anything, either about your career your company, or the market, what would it be and why?

Clendenning: Two things come to mind. First, my business and marketing degrees have helped me throughout my career, but I wish I would have tried to get a degree in chemistry. I may not have been as successful in college if I had done so, but in our industry technology today is extremely important. With a chemistry degree, I could help more in this area.

Second, because of my background and having learned an industry I love from the ground up, I try to practice promoting from within the company. It is difficult to motivate and keep talented people in our industry today because we can’t promote them fast enough or provide them with enough incentives to stay. Our industry is so competitive that we really don’t make enough on the returns that we earn and deserve. That’s an important factor why it’s difficult for us to attract and keep good people today.

QP: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge for the industry right now?

Clendenning: With the competitiveness and over capacity situation in the ink industry today, the biggest challenge for us and other companies is making the proper return on what we do so we can continue to invest in the future for the good of our employees, customers, and shareholders. The largest cost factor that goes into developing our products is raw materials. In 2011 we saw unprecedented price increases that really cut into our bottom line. We could not keep up with our own increases to customers as swift and often as the material prices changed. Raw material costs will continue to be our biggest challenge this year.

QP: What do you consider to be the greatest asset for the industry right now?

Clendenning: There is no doubt the best asset our industry has are the many fine men and women that work on our behalf and with our customers every day. At INX, over 25 percent of our workforce is stationed in the customer’s workplace and function as an in-plant employee. They do it every day and are on call 24/7. That’s dedication to the job and beyond.

QP: What are the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years?

Clendenning: Obviously, communications technology keeps evolving rapidly. The advancements in computers affect the Internet with Web-based media sites, email, and cell phones that make communication instant and more efficient. But there are times when I question if it’s best for our businesses when computers and email are being overused. I’m a believer of personal communication, spending more face time with and listening to people, and anyone who is planning to attend drupa should drop by our booth. I’d recommend our industry to use all of your communication tools wisely.

QP: Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry?

Clendenning: Equipment and chemistry will continue to improve and become faster and more efficient. Everything today is so competitive that this must happen for any company or business to survive. Manufacturing a pound of ink faster and more efficiently with higher quality and performance is what we strive for every day. There is so much more automation that is employed today, compared to even 10 years ago. I washed ink tubs when I first started in the business. That job doesn’t exist anymore because it’s an automated process now.

QP: What one piece of advice would you like to give to printers and others involved in this industry?

Clendenning: I think one technology that will be part of every printer’s future is some type of digital, variable, on-demand printing. Our industry is experiencing an impact of digital technologies, and as inkjet print heads continue to improve in speed, size, and printing, inkjet printing itself will gain in popularity and usage. If you’re a printer who hasn’t looked into some type of digital printing that could enhance your business, you need to do it now. Otherwise, this technology will soon pass you by.

Learn more about INX International Ink Co. at www.myprintresource.com/10279924.