When the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) named INX International Ink
Rick Clendenning,second from right, president and CEO of INX International Ink Company, receives NAPIM’s Ault Award from NAPIM president Dave Frescoln of Flint Group, as his son Jim, daughter-in-law Katrina and wife Kitty look on.
“This is a great honor,” Mr. Clendenning said. “I was hoping I would be lucky enough to earn this award. I just didn’t think it would be tonight. I was on the selection committee, and my name wasn’t even on the ballot.”
Joining the Ink Industry
Mr. Clendenning’s route to the ink industry began in 1971, when he was a student at the California State University at Fullerton. He needed a part-time job, and his father worked at Acme Printing Ink as a production supervisor and in shipping.
Mr. Clendenning was brought on as a tub washer, and he knew his dad was going to be a strict taskmaster.
“My dad told me one thing when I joined Acme as a tub washer,” Mr. Clendenning recalled. “He said that people were going to be watching him and I, so he was going to give me all the hard jobs and treat me harder than others. My dad worked very hard his entire career and so did my mom, so I have to thank them for my work ethic.”
Mr. Clendenning finished college in 1973, and moved to Acme’s lab, and then later to an in-plant facility, where he sharpened his technical skills. He showed tremendous dedication and potential, and Rob Dyer, president of Acme, made Mr. Clendenning the point person for opening the company’s new metal decorating ink plant in North Carolina in 1979. Responsible for both the laboratory and manufacturing, he played key roles in the formulation and introduction of innovative products for metal decorating — products that helped make it the dominant player in metal decorating inks.
“We were always big in metal deco ink,” Mr. Clendenning noted. “We moved to Charlotte at the right time, as there were many new can plants starting up in the area. The metal deco business is labor intensive, and we built up our infrastructure with good people.”
Mr. Clendenning noted that he had a lot of influences along the way. “Gil Stratton Sr. was a leader for us in metal deco, and he took me under his wing. Mike Powell, who is still with us, was my first boss in the lab and taught me a lot, as did Danny Knight, Paul Wegmann Sr. and Ken O’Callaghan.”
Above all, Mr. Clendenning points to the lessons he learned from his parents as the keys to the person he is now. “My dad and mom loved to work, and they always said that whatever I did, just work hard and do the best that I can,” he recalled.
Acme Printing Ink was a family-owned business, and Mr. Clendenning noted that the Dyer family was very good to its employees. However, the family was looking to leave the ink business by the late 1980s, and had been working with Sakata Inx on metal deco technology. That would form the foundation for what would eventually become INX International Ink.
“Sakata Inx was very interested in metal deco technology, and we worked together on it,” Mr. Clendenning said. “Ultimately, they were interested in acquiring Acme, and that started Sakata Inx’s presence in the U.S. Looking back, without Sakata, we would have been gobbled up by another company. Sakata came in, and provided us with technology, capital and opportunities to grow as employees with a new strong company.”
Sakata Inx acquired Acme in 1989, and quickly followed by purchasing Midland Color in 1990. The two companies were combined into INX International Ink Company in 1991. Meanwhile, Mr. Clendenning was promoted to vice president and regional manager, focusing on operations and metal deco.
“Acme and Midland was a good complementary fit, as we were in metal deco, heatset, and liquid and they were in sheetfed and liquid,” Mr. Clendenning said.
There were challenges, though, as early on, the company operated separately under two different presidents and two teams of salesmen, which caused some difficulties. A few more companies were also eventually merged into INX, including CPS Corporation, and it took a while for the company to create its own identity.
Meanwhile, Mr. Clendenning was put in charge of international operations and metal deco, and then in 1996, moved to Chicago as senior vice president of all operations. In 1999, Mr. Clendenning was promoted to president of INX International Ink, with a mandate of building a cohesive team.
This was when Mr. Clendenning started learning even more from Sakata’s top management. Mr. Clendenning said, “The valuable lessons and guidance I received by working closely with current INX chairman Hiroshi Ota and prior chairman Mitsuo Matsuzawa have been the key to my growth and success. Both of these gentlemen have had a great influence on my life and are not only mentors, but good friends as well.”
Sakata’s managerial style has been a huge advantage for Mr. Clendenning.
“Sakata has had a different approach with INX International than most Japanese companies would have,” he said. “They have a tremendous commitment to the technology side and support our upper management in a way that allows us to grow individually. Sakata believes that upper management should be from the local countries we are from, and brings in chemists to transfer technology. At any time, we have six to 12 chemists from Sakata working with us, collaborating globally.”
Mr. Clendenning has earned the respect of Sakata INX’s leaders.
Rick Clendenning and Hiroshi Ota, chairman of the board for INX International Ink and senior managing director, Sakata Inx.
The Changing Nature of Ink, Metal Deco Industries
When Mr. Clendenning joined Acme, the company was not the true dominant leader in the field of metal deco inks. INX currently has 65 percent of the 2-piece worldwide market and is the absolute market leader in the 3-piece metal inks as well.
“Our metal deco business, an important part of our business, has changed tremendously over the years and we had to keep up,” he noted. “Our customers used to run 200 to 250 cans per minute, and now we are running over 2,000 cans per minute. We used to apply 120 mg of overprint varnish on each can, and now they are down to only 60 mg to protect the ink. We’ve had to help our customers meet these speed requirements while enhancing the abrasion and adhesion characteristics under tough conditions.
“There used to be 25 to 30 different can companies,” Mr. Clendenning added. “Now there are four or five major 2-piece aluminum can companies and seven or eight tin print 3-piece can companies that are strong demanding companies.
“The 1979 plant wasn’t state-of-the-art,” Mr. Clendenning noted, adding that his wife Kitty volunteered her time at the plant to help get it started. “We only began with two three-roll mills, and by the time we closed the plant, we had 12 and two additional buildings.
“Our new plant is state-of-the-art,” Mr. Clendenning added. “We built our newest facility to show our commitment to the metal deco industry. Our big customers are counting on us, and we’re in it for the long haul.”
Whether or not to keep the plant in North Carolina was an important decision, and Mr. Clendenning said that the employees at the Charlotte plant made the decision easy.
“When we started talking about our new facility, the question of where to put the plant came up,” he noted. “There was a suggestion of building in Chicago, but we wanted to keep the people that we have. We have dedicated, good people who have been with us, some for more than 20 years, and Charlotte is a good city to do business in.”
In an interesting move, INX donated the land from the first plant back to the community to help preserve the environment.
“The plant was in an old section of town that is a flood zone, and the city and county want to buy all the property to create natural parks,” he said. “We donated our land to them, to give something back to the community that gives us so much.”
Consolidation is also impacting the ink industry. “There has been a lot of consolidation in ink,” Mr. Clendenning said. “There used to be a lot more people in the ink industry, but we all had to get leaner and meaner.
“I think the biggest change has been how we compete,” Mr. Clendenning added. “We all gave things away in the past and that’s not good for anyone. Now we are correcting that by trying to sell our “added value” options. It is going to be difficult because we already created the ‘expected value’ mentality among our customer base.”
A Record of Service
As a result of his dedication to the metal deco industry, Mr. Clendenning is known internationally for his expertise in metal decorating inks. He has been active in the International Metal Decorators Association over the years and currently serves as IMDA president.
“When the Metal Decorating Association lost its treasurer a few years ago, they called me and asked me to do it, and we have been able to turn the association around,” Mr. Clendenning noted.
While helping his own company grow and prosper, Mr. Clendenning has also has been extensively involved in NAPIM affairs, having served on the NAPIM Board, on the organization’s Executive Committee, and currently as NAPIM vice president. In recognition of his service to the ink industry, Mr. Clendenning previously received the Printing Ink Pioneer award from NAPIM in 1997.
“NAPIM is in good shape, although I am a little concerned about participation of the members,” Mr. Clendenning said. “As the chair of NAPIM’s Member Services Committee, I’m going to concentrate on enhancing benefits for current members and getting them to participate.”
Outside of INX, Mr. Clendenning has numerous interests, but first and foremost is his family. He and his wife Kitty were high school sweethearts, and were married in 1971. They have two sons: Jim, his wife, Katrina, and grandchildren Caleb and Bryson; and Andy and his wife Tiffany, who have two sons, Nino and Zachary.
Mr. Clendenning credits his wife with doing a great job of raising their kids.
“Without Kitty’s support, I wouldn’t be where I am. I missed a lot of our sons growing up, and Kitty did a great job raising them,” he said, adding that he took up golf, now one of his favorite hobbies, as a way of sharing time with his sons. Both of their sons live in North Carolina, and the Clendennings spend much time with their sons and grandchildren. In addition, Mr. Clendenning’s father, who transferred to INX’s Charlotte facility in 1983 and retired in 1997 at the age of 76, is still living with the family.
Receiving the Ault Award
Although Mr. Clendenning was surprised at his being presented with the Ault Award, his colleagues in the industry certainly were not caught off-guard.
“Rick has great credentials, and has made great contributions to the ink industry and to NAPIM,” said James Coleman, NAPIM’s executive director and the 2005 Ault Award recipient.
“It is hard for me to think of a more appropriate recipient of the Ault Award then Rick Clendenning,” said George J. Polasik, INX International Ink’s senior vice president and COO. “He is in the minority of managers and CEOs nowadays in that he has worked his whole career with one company, which is not owned or run by his family. He also worked from a humble beginning job as a tub washer while he finished his degree from college to become the president and CEO. He has a good understanding of many positions within an ink company, seeing as he has worked most of them himself during his career.”
“Rick is deserving of the Ault Award because he is the hardest working, most focused and driven individual I have ever come across in our business,” said John Hrdlick, vice president field operations/distribution for INX International Ink. “On top of that, he also has a very sincere concern for all of our employees, customers, vendors and other people he comes in contact with. Rick makes all of us better people and better employees. I am very lucky and proud to have worked for Rick and with him for many years.”
In speaking with many of Mr. Clendenning’s colleagues over the years, the overwhelming sense one gets is that Mr. Clendenning’s hard work and sincerity make him the unique leader that he has become. Fortunately for INX International Ink Company, the printing ink and metal decorating industries, Mr. Clendenning will continue to make a major difference for many years to come.