To say that Robert Gans, chairman of Gans Ink & Supply, has led a unique life would be a tremendous understatement.There is so much he has done during the past 84 years that he wrote an autobiography, “This is It!: The Adventures of Robert J. Gans.”
The Metro New York Printing Ink Association (MNYPIA) recently welcomed Mr. Gans, who captivated the audience of more than 75 with stories from World War II, Hollywood and the ink industry. He also warned the industry about the present danger of imports that are coming into the U.S. market.
The Life of Bob Gans
Most people consider their lives pretty interesting, but Mr. Gans’ experiences are truly out of the ordinary. Born in 1918, Mr. Gans started selling ink prior to his being drafted to serve in the infantry during World War II. After a brief training period, Mr. Gans was thrown into some of the most ferocious battles in Europe, including Anzio and the landing along southern France, during his two and a half years of service.
Mr. Gans served with distinction, rising to the rank of captain, and was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Purple Hearts, a Combat Infantry Badge, and a Presidential Unit Citation.
“War was crazy,” Mr. Gans told the audience. “I was wounded three times. We took part in the invasion of southern France; 28 of us, with me as the leader, were sent in ahead of the invasion to land and set up a beachhead. I was stuck in the infantry, which was the last place anyone wanted to be. After 13 weeks of training, all of us kids, from the farms and the cities, were sent out. Germany and Japan had trained their kids from the age of 8 up.
“You cannot believe how great our men were,” Mr. Gans said, remembering those who fought next to him. “We fought, we died, and we killed. My heart goes out to those brave kids who stood up to them and beat them.”
After the war, Mr. Gans returned to Sleight Metallic Ink, where he had worked prior to being drafted, and successfully opened its California office.
All was going fine until just prior to his wedding.
“I met a beautiful girl, and the week I was going to be married, the vice president of Sleight Metallic Ink flew in and fired me to give a job to their brother-in-law,” he said. “My sisters came to me and asked me what I needed to get into the ink industry. We pooled together $6,000, and I went into business.” In fact, the first thing Mr. Gans did was run Sleight Metallic out of business.
Over the years, Mr. Gans became involved with a variety of interesting people. One of his closest friends was actress Jayne Mansfield, who would die in a tragic car accident just prior to her and Mr. Gans being married.
When they first met, Mr. Gans had asked her to appear in a few of his ink ads, and a close friendship was struck.
“I was engaged to Jayne Mansfield,” he said. “I would go to her house and guys would be climbing trees to take pictures, and I would have her house key. Jayne and I would have gotten married.”
In recent years, Mr. Gans has been in the forefront of the industry, receiving the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers’ Ault Award, its most prestigious honor, in 1979.“Ink Stains,” a humorous column he wrote for nearly 40 years, ran in countless trade publications. He has also been involved in a number of civic groups, including 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. He has earned numerous state and local awards for his community and his industry efforts.
“That’s the story of my life so far,” he concluded.
Where the Ink Industry is Headed
Mr. Gans saved his toughest words for the state of the ink industry today.
“I’ve been truly impressed by how important our industry is to the world,” he said. “Without printing ink, there is no printing. We’re the lifeblood of civilization. We’re also an industry in trouble.
“When I started, we made 18 percent to 22 percent profit, and we deserved it,” Mr. Gans said.“Our industry’s profits nationally are now 3 percent, and that’s horrible. In the last 15 years, foreign ink makers have come into our country, which is OK, but the duty is 1.8 percent. If I want to sell to their country, I have to pay anywhere from 18 percent to 30 percent. It’s not a level playing field, and I don’t like it. It diminishes our industry, which should have so much pride in what we do.
“I suggest that we create a public relations committee to go to Congress and demand a level playing field. I say we have job to do. We should always be patriotic and defend our country. We also have to defend our industry.”
The MNYPIA has been working hard to provide a valuable presence for the industry, and Michael Brice, club president and COO of Superior Printing Ink, said hosting Mr. Gans was an honor.
“As a club, we have to provide value to our members, and hearing what a legend has to say definitely provides value,” said Mr. Brice after the meeting. “This is an honor for all of us. Bob is a great storyteller, and this was a treat.”