Ault Award recipient H. Howard Flint II looks back on accomplishments, prepares for growth
In 1964, when H. Howard Flint II began working for Flint Ink, the family-owned company was generating annual sales of $12 million.
The Flint family was particularly well-respected within the industry. Mr. Flint’s grandfather, Howard Flint, was selected as a charter member of the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers’ (NAPIM) distinguished Printing Ink Pioneers in 1956. His uncle, Robert H. Flint, would earn the same honor in 1966, as would his father, Edgar B. Flint, in 1981.
Little could Mr. Flint, now chairman and chief executive officer of the family business, have known back then that he would be the man who would lead Flint Ink to become a billion dollar a year ink business.
Mr. Flint also could not have guessed that he, too, would be named a Printing Ink Pioneer in 1991.
This past April, Mr. Flint joined his uncle Robert in another extremely important distinction when he received the Ault Award, the printing ink industry’s most respected honor, during NAPIM’s annual convention. As the audience applauded, Mr. Flint was joined by his uncle Robert on the dais.
“I’m thrilled and I’m honored,” Mr. Flint said after receiving the award from NAPIM president Urban Hirsch III. “I thank each and every one of you. I thank the members of NAPIM, the Technical Associate Members, our customers, the employees of our company, and I thank my family, who have been with me all the way. I truly love the business.”
Building a Business
The Ault Award is presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the progress of the industry. Mr. Flint’s leadership and business acumen has led Flint Ink to its billion dollar status, with greater growth to follow: he projects sales of $1.2 billion this year.
“When I started with the company in 1964, Flint Ink had $12 million in sales,” Mr. Flint said. “We never did acquisitions. It was all organic growth. In 1975, we went out on a limb and purchased Tenneco’s Cal Ink division.” At that time, Flint Ink was a $25 million a year business, and Cal Ink had annual sales of approximately $16 million.
Since then, Flint Ink has made a series of acquisitions, including Capitol Printing Ink (1986); Sinclair & Valentine (1987); NAPIC (1994); Continental Inks and BASF’s North American Division (both in 1995); and Manders PLC in 1998.
“These were pretty aggressive moves,” Mr. Flint said. “Sinclair & Valentine, especially, was gutsy, because they were the same size as we were.
“We look at the products they have, the markets they serve, and the synergies involved. We also look at whether the acquisition will fit with our strategic business plan, which is updated annually and endorsed by our Board of Directors,” Mr. Flint said about studying potential purchases. “You don’t always seek out acquisitions, but rather some companies come to you because they know you and your company’s reputation in doing a deal.”
Mr. Flint’s ability to plan for the future has been a major key to the growth of Flint Ink.
“His skill is strategic vision,” said Bill Parfet, a friend of Mr. Flint’s for 30 years and a member of the Flint Ink Board of Directors for the past four years. “He could see what Flint Ink could become, far beyond what we could see.
“I’ve been a close friend for 30 years, but being on the board for the last four years, I’ve gained a significant appreciation for his business savvy,” Mr. Parfet said. “Most managers are good at transactions. Howard is transformational; he has transformed Flint Ink into a vibrant leader in the ink industry.”
“Howard has been instrumental in the rapid growth of Flint Ink,” added Kathy Marx, Flint Ink’s vice president, marketing. “His commitment to growth and his relentless pursuit of quality have guided us to the position we maintain today. His vision and knowledge of the industry have been crucial to our success and undoubtedly will be key as we move into the new millennium.”
During his 35 years with Flint Ink, Mr. Flint has adapted to the changes that have occurred in the industry.
“I think there are fewer large companies today than when I came into the business, but just as many small companies,” Mr. Flint said.
Business was different at the time Flint Ink purchased Cal Ink in 1975. For example, Cal Ink had a number of plants in the same cities where Flint Ink was located, and Flint Ink decided to keep all of the plants operational. “What we decided to do was to give our customers a choice, to buy from Cal Ink or Flint,” he said. “These were redundancies you couldn’t live with today.”
Looking back now, the idea of Flint Ink becoming a billion-dollar company was never even a remote thought in Mr. Flint’s imagination.
“You never talk about a billion,” Mr. Flint said of his company’s huge gains. “You talk about $50 million, then $100 million, then a half billion.
“We’ve been very fortunate with what we’ve bought,” Mr. Flint continued. “Growing through acquisition as well as organically is a solid strategy, as long as you don’t overpay and you buy solid companies.
“You go out on a limb a bit with a private company, either through cash or through debt,” Mr. Flint said. “We’re not going to issue any shares. All our growth has been funded through our own finances or through debt. As a family, we don’t live a flamboyant lifestyle.
“The family owns the business and provides the leadership,” Mr. Flint added. “We are a professionally managed company, with a truly independent Board of Directors. The board holds us to the same standards as a publicly-held company.”
Learning the Business
As any successful business leader knows, being aware of all the various aspects of a business is critical to a company’s overall success. Production, purchasing, sales, research and development, administration, shipping and quality control all are important areas for any company.
Even during high school and college, Mr. Flint was being prepared to know all facets of the industry.
“I started when I was 16, still in high school,” Mr. Flint recalled. “I would come down and work in shipping, factory production, handling color matching in the lab, or doing quality control work. In the afternoons during college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I worked at our Denver plant. You got a better idea of how everything worked and how it worked together. You knew what the plant floor was like, and you knew what shipping was like.”
After Mr. Flint received his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton Business School, he came back to Flint Ink to work full-time. His family quickly found ways to utilize Mr. Flint’s many abilities.
“We didn’t have a personnel department, so after graduate school, they asked me to set up the first department,” Mr. Flint said. “I then went over to purchasing for seven years. The family then decided I should have branch experience, so I went to Chicago for four years, then I came back and learned more about the technical and financial portions of the business.
“It gave me an appreciation of how different areas should work together to make the company prosperous,” Mr. Flint said.
Mr. Flint credits the people who work with him for his success. “The secret is finding good, capable people and giving them direction,” Mr. Flint said. “We have excellent incentives in place, and if the people are capable, they can perform.
“Hire good people, spend money on training, have a development plan for both your people and your company,” Mr. Flint recommended. “You need to have a plan to make your product better, to serve your customers better.”
One concern that Mr. Flint has is the need to improve profitability, both within the ink industry and for suppliers and customers. “Profitability is a very important thing,” Mr. Flint said. “We all need to make money.”
“Howard is committed to providing outstanding value to our customers,” said Dave Frescoln, Flint Ink president and chief operating officer. “At the same time, he realizes that the worldwide printing ink industry must receive economic value in return if it is to survive. It is in pushing for a balance between these two – sometimes opposing – forces, that Howard has shown his greatest leadership in the industry. The Ault Award acknowledges that contribution.”
Family and Friends
With so many successful business leaders within his family, Mr. Flint had no shortage of role models. Mr. Flint said that he looked up to many members of his family as role models: his grandfather, Howard Flint; his father, Edgar B. Flint; his mother, Mary Annette Flint; and his uncle, Robert H. Flint.
“I spent a great deal of time with my grandfather, who founded the company. I was his oldest grandson,” Mr. Flint said in reflecting upon his role models. “There was my mother, my father, and my uncle. My father was the sales end of the business, and my uncle the financial and technical side.”
Those who know Mr. Flint well say his business abilities are just one side of him.
Outside of work, Mr. Flint enjoys the outdoors, his family and friends. “I guess my first loves are boating, hunting, fishing, family and friends,” Mr. Flint said.
His close friends and associates say he is a genuinely good friend who does what he says he’ll do. “He’s friendly, he’s enthusiastic, and he’s engaging,” said Mr. Parfet.
“Howard’s warm and friendly demeanor masks his bold and courageous efforts to continuously improve his company and the industry,” said Joe Raksis, senior vice president, research & new market development at Flint Ink.
Mr. Flint has been a longstanding member and supporter of NAPIM, both with his own time and talents and through encouraging Flint Ink personnel to assist when needed. He also is a strong supporter of other trade groups, such as the Gravure Association of America, which named Mr. Flint the GAA Person of the Year last October.
“I think trade associations are important for any industry,” said Mr. Flint, who served as NAPIM president from 1989 to 1991, and is a member of its Executive Board. “It sets standards, and gives a focal point for suppliers to meet with us. As ink manufacturers, we owe a lot of our success to our suppliers. I enjoy everyone at NAPIM.”
NAPIM’s leaders say that Mr. Flint is a huge supporter of the organization.
“He has always been very generous with his phone time and support with NAPIM, along with encouraging the people in his organization to be active in NAPIM’s affairs,” said NAPIM president Jim Coleman.
“Because of his involvement in NAPIM and the ink industry, the award was well deserved,” said Harvey Brice, Superior Printing Ink president and last year’s Ault Award winner. “He’s an old friend. I thought it was a very good choice. He’s always been very positive about NAPIM.”
For Mr. Flint, receiving the Ault Award is extremely gratifying.
“You think about it and you kind of know you’re under consideration,” Mr. Flint said. “But when it happens, it’s a pretty touching moment. Here’s your peer group saying you’ve been in the trenches, and we want to do something for you.”
Perhaps the strongest accolades came from Robert H. Flint, one of Mr. Flint’s role models. After his nephew received the award, Mr. Flint was asked what he thought of the honor.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Robert H. Flint. “He’s doing a very fine job for the company. He’s a good successor.”