By David Savastano
One week before he was to be married, Bob Gans was fired by Sleight Metallic Ink Company to make room for a relative of the owner.
Surveying his options, Mr. Gans decided that he would compete with his former employers. Borrowing $6,000 from family and friends, Mr. Gans opened Gans Ink & Supply Company on January 2, 1950.
Now, 50 years later, Gans Ink & Supply Co. is an industry leader, with more than $26 million in sales and 13 branches across the U.S. Mr. Gans, the chairman of the company he founded, is also a recognized printing ink leader, earning the prestigious National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers’ (NAPIM) Ault Award in 1979.
This year, Mr. Gans has earned, by his count, a total of nine awards on the federal, state and local level for his civic and professional efforts.
“It must be the Year of the Gans,” he remarked, looking upon his honors this year. In reality, considering his countless achievements, it has been the Half-Century of the Gans.
A Natural Leader
Mr. Gans has an array of awards, all attesting to his leadership qualities.
Among them, Mr. Gans’ World War II decorations from the U.S. Army speak volumes about the man. Mr. Gans was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Purple Hearts, and a Combat Infantry Badge, as well as a Presidential Unit Citation for invasions in Italy and France. He rose to the rank of captain, and served in combat for more than two and a half years, including Anzio and landing in southern France.
“During that time I somehow survived,” Mr. Gans said of his war experience.
Back home, Mr. Gans has continued to lead the way in many community efforts.
“He is an innovator, a salesman supreme, a war hero – people naturally gravitate to him,” said Jeff Koppelman, Gans Ink & Supply’s president and Mr. Gans’ son-in-law. “He’s a gregarious individual, and savors life. He’s also very philanthropic, not only with religious charities, but also with efforts for the homeless, and the financial support of a local recreation center, which Bob revived for the sole benefit of the children of low-income parents.”
Mr. Gans came upon the ink industry through his father, who was a printer in Chicago. After a year of college at the University of Illinois, he went to work for Sleight Metallic Ink Company as a salesman. At the onset of the U.S.’s entry into World War II, Mr. Gans enlisted in the U.S. Army for four years, returning back to Chicago and Sleight after the war.
The company moved him to California, but soon replaced him with a relative. Joined by some key people and with the help of some friends, he started the Gans Ink & Supply Company.
“I was helped tremendously by Edward Friesendorf, the owner of Handschy Ink Co., who took a tremendous liking to us,” Mr. Gans recalled. “He sold us all sorts of finished inks and his color book, and gave us credit. I ran Sleight out of business in no time at all.”
While Gans Ink first centered its efforts on letterpress inks, it quickly moved into other areas, putting a major emphasis on research to create new possibilities.
“In 1950, we started with letterpress, and then moved over into offset, which became our mainstream product line,” Mr. Koppelman said. “In the early 1960's, we developed modern rubber-based inks for duplicators, which put us on the national map.”
Another area that provided Mr. Gans with much attention was “Ink Stains,” a column he wrote for nearly 40 years, which ran in countless trade publications. His wit and wisdom made the column a must-read.
“Ink is the lifeblood of civilization,” Mr. Gans said. “We invested heavily into investigation and research, and have tried to do innovative things. You have to advertise. We’re in business to make a profit. We kept a low overhead, and worked hard and bought a lot of instruments. We invented modern rubber-based inks, and were the first to run DayGlo fluorescents in offset formulations and litho-friendly gold metallic inks.”
A key opportunity for Gans Ink came when Mr. Koppelman was engaged to Mr. Gans’ daughter Liz. Mr. Koppelman recalled how Mr. Gans sat him down on a sofa, and asked him whether he wanted to come into the company. Mr. Koppelman, who was then a certified pubic accountant with a firm in Beverly Hills, CA, decided to take him up on it.
“He asked me if I wanted to go into the ink business,” Mr. Koppelman said. “I naturally asked if there was a future. He laughed and said he had done very well. It’s worked out fine.”
“Jeff Koppelman is the greatest,” Mr. Gans said. “I’m so grateful. It’s amazing what we’ve seen since my birth. There was no radio or TV; telephones were rare. Jeff is a man of this age, relying a great deal on the computer. I told him, you're not going to come in and take over a big office. Instead, he started by washing pots and pans, went into the mill room, did color matches and sold. Everything he did he did well. We’re flourishing now better than ever.”
“In 1980, when I got there, the company did about $6 million,” Mr. Koppelman said. “Bob wanted to expand. Three or four years later, we began to open a number of branches, and now we’re up to 13 locations. Our Salt Lake branch produces more than three million pounds of ink annually. We simultaneously expanded into other areas of the market, and began our specialty divisions. I wanted to broaden our product offerings, as well as our geographic customer base so that we would be impervious to sudden changes in any one market.”
“Today we are heavily into specialty inks,” Mr. Gans said. “Our business does not lend itself to large volume, but instead, we go after the specialty inks and everything from one pound up. We give round the clock service, and anyone can get ink from us at any time. We have a devotion to the business. My son-in-law is fabulous. He’s committed to the idea of great service.”
Today, Gans Ink has four divisions in addition to its offset business. The Security and Specialty Inks Division specializes in technologically-advanced inks for documents of value. The Sublimation Division creates and sells heat-transfer dye products for screen process, litho and digital printing. The UV Division manufactures energy-curable inks. The Blanket Division manufactures printing blankets for virtually any press.
Ultimately, what is Mr. Gans’ philosophy of business? “Profit is the ultimate goal of business,” Mr. Gans said. “And the more profit, the better. Business is so simple, make a profit, and keep good help.”
Mr. Gans credits the people who have been with the company for many years with his success.
“One of the biggest assets we can have is people staying with you,” Mr. Gans said. “We have people who have stayed more than 30 years. You make an effort to hire people who are good people; we show an interest in them and their families and who they are. You have to treat them right. We did a survey, and the thing that our employees want most is recognition. We also have the best working conditions, and we demand absolute cleanliness.”
“I have been blessed by some of the most wonderful people who have worked with me,” Mr. Gans continued. “Ludwig Messerschmidt, our original chemist, and John Hozduck, our first mill hand, were with Sleight; Louis Fabbiano, who started as a formulator and worked his way up to vice president; Louis Fabbiano Jr., who started with us at age 14 more than 38 years ago, and is now a senior research and development manager ; Kay Givens, who was with us for 32 years and ran our office; Howard Crowley; Russell Brown; Bill McLewee; and Perla Yuag to name a few of the old-timers. Then, of course, there are all of the people who, in the last 20 years, have made our company better and better every year.”
In terms of awards, it has been a landmark year for Mr. Gans.
“I was named Man of the Year of the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen, Executive of the Year of the Printing Industry Association of Southern California, and received nine community awards from Mayor Frank Riordan, Gov. Gary Davis, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Diane Feinstein, and the county of Los Angeles,” Mr. Gans said. “It’s just my year, I guess. Everything’s come together this year.”
Mr. Gans has also earned NAPIM’s Ault Award and Printing Ink Pioneer Award; Craftsman of the Year from the Los Angeles Club of Printing House Craftsmen; Distinguished Craftsman (IAPHC 12th District); Pioneer Award from the Los Angeles Association of Printing Ink Makers; Pioneer Award from the Printing Industries Association; and commendations from the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Industrial Education Association, Pasadena City College, the Carter House Science Museum, the Los Angeles Litho Club, and the Cleveland Club of Litho and Printing House Craftsmen.
Mr. Gans also earned commendations from President Dwight Eisenhower for founding the “Printers for Freedom” organization. “The whole object was to print, during downtime, for any organization against Communism,” Mr. Gans said. He also served as a trustee for People to People, which included President Eisenhower, Walt Disney, and Bob Hope.
Mr. Gans also helped create the Aliso-Pico Business Community, which provides social enrichment and educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth and community members from the East Los Angeles neighborhood Gans Ink is in. “We put in time, money and effort, and we now have a program for 880 boys and girls,” Mr. Gans said.
“He is a giver,” Mr. Koppelman said. “He is genuinely concerned about people.”
“I have a philosophy that it’s not enough to make a living, but you have to give back to the community,” Mr. Gans said. “We hire kids from around the neighborhood, and we run a very successful company with them.”
With Mr. Koppelman at the helm and Mr. Gans still a strong presence, Gans Ink & Supply continues to remain dedicated to its family roots.
“We are a close family organization,” Mr. Koppelman said. “Bob and I are on the same wavelength on business issues. I would not profess to have anywhere near his sales skills, however! He’s still in every day and opens the mail, makes calls and write letters, and gets around to the branches. He’s quite the ambassador for our company.”
Would Mr. Koppelman recommend to his sons, Chad and Jordan, that they join the family business?
“I would tell Chad and Jordan to come in, although I want my sons to seek their own fortunes,” Mr. Koppelman said. “We definitely have a portal into the future, and I think we’re a strong company. I like the ink business, and truly enjoy what I do. I appreciate the assets of the people I work with. We’re extremely proud of all we’ve accomplished and of all our people. I am passionate about the success of our company; Bob is passionate about inks.”
“I adore the business,” Mr. Gans concluded. “I absolutely love it. I can hardly imagine anything more challenging. I love challenges and the ink industry is a great big challenge. I believe in operating absolutely honestly, and understanding what printers need, and I have a nice life. I hope to see Gans roll along the same lines.”