Siegwerk's Kent Shah Retires from the Ink Industry
By David Savastano
However, Mr. Shah was unable to find a job in pharma, and ended up joining Inmont as an ink chemist. The decision proved to be an excellent one, as Mr. Shah’s talents and efforts played a key role in developing laminating inks and the success of Color Converting Inc. As a result of his success, he earned the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers’ (NAPIM) prestigious Printing Ink Pioneer Award in 1994.
Mr. Shah was active with NAPIM as well, serving as president of the National Printing Ink Research Institute (NPIRI), and he also was a key member of Ink World’s Editorial Advisory Board.
Mr. Shah announced his retirement recently, and he looks back fondly on his career.
“I worked in pharmaceuticals in India, and I decided to get a visa and come to the U.S. I had some friends in Chicago, but when I moved to Chicago, I could not find a job in pharma, and decided to locate a job in the chemical industry,” Mr. Shah recalled. “I interviewed with Jerry Laudatto at Inmont in 1971, and accepted a job as a junior chemist in the QC department. My role slowly grew at Inmont, and within two years, I was promoted to R&D chemist. I found that ink offered lots of challenges, and loved my job because so much is going on. At that time, the packaging industry was moving very rapidly, but there was not enough technology available. I did a lot of research on surface printing for plastics, as we had no lamination business. By 1976, I was promoted to R&D manager, and now had the chance to exchange information with people around the world. I was able to get a lot of ideas and formulas, which enhanced my career.”
And Lamination Inks
After seven years at Inmont, Mr. Shah wanted to move his career forward. His ultimate goal was to own his own ink company, and Mr. Shah felt that a smaller company would give him the experience he would need.
“I decided that I would have a better chance to grow if I worked at a smaller company,” Mr. Shah said.
By that point, Mr. Laudatto had joined Johnson Wax, and he recommended that Mr. Shah contact Ron Barry, a former Inmont employee who started up an ink company, Color Converting Inc., in Des Moines, IA.
“Although Ron Barry had worked at Inmont, I had never met him,” Mr. Shah said. “Jerry Laudatto knew Ron, who was looking for someone to handle the technical side of the company.”
“We were just a couple of years old and making pretty basic inks for packaging,” Mr. Barry said. “My aim was how to make someone in Atlanta buy ink in Iowa. The only way was developing high-end lamination inks, and my goal was to find the best ink technician around. Kent was the one. We met, and he saw the opportunity and I saw the talent.”
“I got together with Ron in Des Moines, and we talked about ideas, and I decided this was the right company for me,” Mr. Shah added. “I would be the only chemist at the company, which gave me the opportunity to try out all kinds of ideas. Inmont tried to get me to stay with offers of more money, but I wanted to move on. It was a good move, as Ron is a great guy to work for, and Color Converting was just the opportunity I wanted.”
The one drawback for Mr. Shah was relocating with his wife Hasu and young son Vipul to Des Moines. “The job had great potential, but leaving Chicago and its large Indian community was a difficult decision, but it was a decision I had to make.”
“I tell people the best selling job I ever did was to convince he and Hasu to move to Des Moines,” Mr. Barry added.
Once in Des Moines, Mr. Shah began work on the challenging field of laminating inks.
“When I got to Color Converting, I started developing laminating systems from scratch, evaluating films and resins, which took some time. One of the reasons we went into laminating inks was that it is a highly specialized field,” Mr. Shah noted. “A commodity ink could be bought anywhere, but when it comes to a specialty ink, you wanted to buy the best, and we could supply that from one point in Des Moines.”
At the time, laminating inks were relatively ineffective, and Mr. Shah spent much time talking with potential customers about their needs and the problems they faced with the inks they were using.
“We found out what the prime properties customers looked for, and what were the major problems they had,” Mr. Shah said. “The laminating systems weren’t versatile; solvent retention was high and gave off odor. Printing with the then-current laminating inks wasn’t good as well.
“My purpose was to fix these problems with our systems, because this was the only way a small company could get into the market. I developed testing procedures, as we couldn’t afford the best equipment. I developed our first ink in Des Moines for American Can’s local plant, and everything worked as we projected, and we eventually won the contract for the whole company.
“After that, we could take our ink to any other converter for a trial, and they would figure if American Can ran it, it must be good,” Mr. Shah added. “Within a couple of years, we had customers across the country, and we were hiring new people, and in turn, developing new products.”
“Kent was the catalyst for us,” Mr. Barry said. “Before Kent, printers couldn’t run the inks at 300 feet per minute. Kent doubled the press speeds. We called him the father of high-performance laminating inks, and it really helped launch us in the most challenging of markets.”
“He was critical in Color Converting’s early days as the company moved into multi-substrate lamination systems for adhesives and extrusion lamination,” added Dan McDowell, president, NAFTA Region for Siegwerk. “This allowed Color Converting to be its own company, rather than building infrastructure everywhere, which was the model then.”
After two years with Color Converting, Mr. Shah returned to his thoughts about running his own business. He spoke with Mr. Barry about his aspirations, and said that at some point he would move on from Color Converting.
“In 1980, Color Converting was growing nicely, and I told Ron that my ultimate goal someday was to start my own company, to go into business for myself,” Mr. Shah recalled. “About a month later, he came to me and offered me shares of the company and to become a partner. That beat everything!”
The company’s growth steadily continued.
“We were working very hard, and assembled a great team of dedicated people. One of the things that we did was have 24 hour a day technical service for customers; we were on call almost 24 hours a day,” Mr. Shah said. “Ron and I teamed up, developing projects together and visiting customers to convince them to try our products. Our relationships with suppliers also helped us to gain business. We learned a lot about ink manufacturing by traveling around the world and visiting ink companies. We ultimately earned the respect of the industry.
“We were a small company back when I started with Color Converting,” Mr. Shah said. “I remember our first Christmas dinner in 1978, and there were only 10 employees and their families there. We grew from the ground up to become a $100 million company.”
“We had a lot of fun,” Mr. Barry said. “It’s really a great story. It was a wonderful relationship, and I’d say we had a very positive influence on each other.”
Siegwerk Comes In
In December 2003, Mr. Barry decided the time was right to sell Color Converting to Siegwerk Group, a family-owned liquid ink specialist headquartered in Siegburg, Germany. Mr. Shah said that was a move that worked out very well indeed.
“The merger has worked out very, very well,” Mr. Shah said. “Siegwerk is a family-owned company, with a similar culture as Color Converting. We are highly focused in the markets we serve, packaging, which helped us a lot. The operations part of the business is still what very much what we were doing, and we have learned from each other in terms of R&D and service. Both Color Converting and Siegwerk are fine world-class companies that not only care for its customers, but provides the same support and respect to its employees.”
When Siegwerk bought Color Converting, Mr. Shah decided to work part-time, and he retired this past September.
“Kent is very passionate about the industry, and the role technology plays in our company’s success,” Mr. McDowell said. “Kent continued with us after Color Converting was sold to Siegwerk, working with us on a part-time basis as a consultant, offering more high-level advice. He has so much knowledge and experience.”
Now, Kent and his wife, Hasu, look forward to travel and spending time with their children, Vipul and Sonalee, and their three grandchildren.
“My new plan is to live in Des Moines as well as in Chicago, play a lot of golf, and enjoy our grandchildren, as well as enjoy lots of travel,” Mr. Shah said.
“My 36 years in the ink industry was most enjoyable and rewarding,” Mr. Shah concluded. “Joining Color Converting worked out really well for me, and both Color Converting and Siegwerk are very fine companies. I was proud to work with Color Converting as well as Siegwerk. I will be taking lot of past memories and will remain part of the industry for life.”