Central Ink’s CEO Richard Breen, second from left, is joined by, from left, Vic Dahleen, Doug Anderson and Gregg Dahleen after he received NAPIM’s Ault Award.
In the summer of 1946, Richard Breen, at the time 16 years old, joined his dad Cecil Edward Breen and brother Vern at CEB Ink, the family’s printing ink business. He worked summers at the letterpress ink business, located in the old Printers Row in downtown Chicago. He attended college and served in the Army before joining the company full-time in 1954.
Now, 66 years later, Mr. Breen continues to lead the company, which became Central Ink Corporation, which had $60 million in sales in 2011.
It is fair to say that Mr. Breen is an industry icon. The Chicago Printing Ink Production Club selected Mr. Breen as its Inkmaker of the Year in 2000, and in 2008, he was honored with the Printing Ink Pioneer Award by NAPIM.
In 2012, NAPIM honored Mr. Breen with the Ault Award, the industry’s highest honor. “It was so unexpected,” Mr. Breen said of receiving the Ault Award.
Mr. Breen’s colleagues all say he is most deserving of the award, and admire his leadership and business knowledge.
“I’m thrilled he got the award, and I would be hard pressed to find anyone more deserving,” said Gregg Dahleen, Central Ink’s president. “He knows how to operate a business. The man has put so much back into the company, and because of that, we can offer so much to our customers. He’s never done an acquisition or burdened his company with debt. There are so many things he has done for people here and for the community. I have learned a lot from him and I respect him a great deal.”
“Richard has seen it all from every viewpoint,” said Brad Dahleen, Central Ink’s vice president of sales and marketing. “He is very inventive. He thinks about everything, and drills down into things like no one you have ever met, like new ways to manufacture. He puts a lot of money back into the company, and because of that, we are able to compete with anyone in the industry.”
“He loves the company and loves the industry,” said Doug Anderson, vice president of product development at Central Ink. “He is as technically strong as anybody I know in the ink industry, and he is very strong in manufacturing. I have to give him credit for reinvesting so much back into the company; he is very deserving of the Ault Award.”
“No one does the details better than Richard,” said Victor Dahleen, vice president of strategic services.“He never stops thinking about his company or what is happening in the industry, I am glad that the industry has recognized him by giving him the Ault award.”
Early Days in the Ink Industry
CEB Ink (named after Cecil Edward Breen’s initials) opened its doors for business in 1933, in an 8,000 square foot factory in a loft building. By the time Mr. Breen joined his father and brother full-time, he had spent years in the lab and in manufacturing.
“It was a wonderful experience to work together with my dad and brother for many, many years,” Mr. Breen said.
By the early 1960s, CEB Ink had completely left the letterpress ink business, and was specializing in news ink. It had outgrown its Printers Row facilities, eventually moving to a 26,000 square foot facility in West Chicago in 1969, selecting the name Central Ink Corporation. By 1971, Central Ink reached the $1 million mark in annual sales for the first time.
In 1975, Mr. Breen and his brother acquired his father’s interest in the business, and in 1985, he bought out his brother’s half-interest in the company, which at the time had $6 million in sales. Importantly, Central Ink also entered the heatset and blanket markets.
Mr. Breen is always looking for ways to improve Central Ink, and his decision to switch to dry pigment manufacturing in 2002 is a clear example of his foresight and willingness to reinvest. The old CEB Inks had used dry color, and Mr. Breen saw an opportunity in switching back.
“Dry pigment really worked out,” Mr. Breen said. “We would have been left in a tight spot with flushed colors. We weren’t even thinking of pigments from China or India at the time. The minute you stop investing in your manufacturing is the day you are done.”
“Richard is a visionary,” Gregg Dahleen said. “Going into dry color was a huge move, but he saw the pressures that were coming.”
“He’s always looking to build a better mousetrap,” Brad Dahleen added. “His decision to switch to dry pigment changed our company.”
Today, Central Ink Corporation has expanded into a 182,000 square foot facility, with the ability to mass-produce volumes of ink that would have been unheard of in the early days of CEB Inks.
“The equipment is so fast and sophisticated today,” he noted. “The amount of ink we can produce in a couple of hours would have taken us a year to manufacture in the old days.”
Still, Central Ink maintains the values it has throughout its history. “What you see is what you get with Central Ink,” Mr. Breen concluded. “Our plan is simple: make a quality product consistently well at a price that’s fair, at a level that earns us the business.”