Mr. Shaffer admittedly got his startworking in the ink industry by accident. “I just stumbled into it,” Mr. Shaffer said. “I was fresh out of the Army. I was just looking for a summer job and it ended up being a career.” Mr. Shaffer started working for Borden Chemical in June 1969 in Baltimore, MD. “I was planning to return to college in the fall. Borden had a tuition reimbursement program and they convinced me to stay.”
The job he took for the summer soon interested him enough to stay. “I got hooked. I enjoyed the diversity,” said Mr. Shaffer. “You don’t get bored in the ink industry, things are always changing.”
Learning the Ropes
Initially hired as a developmental chemist, over a five-year period Mr. Shaffer got involved in all segments of printing including sheetfed, heatset, publication gravure and the numerous areas of water and solvent fluid packaging. “I progressed from the lab into lab production, plant and regional management and from technical to sales,” he said.
Though Mr. Shaffer left Borden in 1980, he maintains that“Borden was really a great organization. From Borden I ended up going to Sinclair and Valentine,” he said. “I started at S&V in Atlanta as technical services manager. I bridged the gap between the lab and sales people with target accounts. In 1987 I was transferred to Baltimore as branch manager.”
Sinclair and Valentine was fully acquired by Flint Ink in 1989. In 1993, Mr. Shaffer was transferred to Ann Arbor as the technical director for the packaging division of Flint Ink. “As Flint Ink became a global company, there was a need to coordinate the technical effort, and in 1999 I accepted the position of director of global technology,” Mr. Shaffer said.
“What the job involves is accessing the strengths and needs of each global area. They may have a strength in Europe that is a weakness in North America. We just move the pieces of the puzzle so that everyone has access to the latest technology.”
Mr. Shaffer credits Dr. Joseph Raksis, senior VP of research and new market development, with contributing to Flint Ink’s global growth. “He really changed the structure of R&D for Flint Ink. R&D was boggled with a lot of local issues and so we pushed out to product development in each geographic region so they could better support their local needs.”
Flint Ink has established a four-level hierarchy of technical support for the customer. The first is the technical service representatives calling on the customer, then the resources of the local branch. The third is the divisional product development labs and the fourth level is the research center in Ann Arbor, MI.
“We have tried to develop a better balance between research and short-term technical service at the research center,” said Mr. Shaffer. “This multi-level customer support system has really helped shift our focus in Ann Arbor from the very short term to the long term true research. We used to be 80 percent technical support and 20 percent research and now its more like 60 percent research and 40 percent technical support. Joe had a vision for establishing the PDL (product development labs) structure and he had the wisdom and patience to let these things develop slowly.”
Mr. Shaffer has had the opportunity to work with many talented individuals in the ink industry. One mentor was John Kerchner, eastern regional manager at Borden until his retirement in 1980. According to Mr. Shaffer, “He really had a good feel for the ink industry. He had a lot of good quotes; one that has stuck with me through the years was no matter how great the formulation or technical achievement, nothing happens with the ink until it generates a sale.
“Often technical people see their work as the achievement and lose sight of the customer. It doesn’t matter how great the formulation, it doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t sell. John knew the industry very well and was very dedicated to customer service. That’s where I developed my customer service philosophy and understanding that the customer is number one.”
Working in the ink industry for more than 30 years, Mr. Shaffer has been given the unique opportunity to witness its progression. “In many ways it’s changed a lot, while in other ways it hasn’t changed at all,” said. Mr. Shaffer. “A lot of the equipment (for both suppliers and manufacturers) has changed significantly. On the other hand, there are still many basic ink systems being used today that are more than 30 years old. They have been modified slightly, but the basic formulation is virtually the same.
“Lamination,” noted Mr. Shaffer, “is a more high-tech area where new technology is being implemented. UV and EB started picking up about five years ago, and today this is one of the fastest growing market segments. We are learning more about this technology every day.”
Receiving the Pioneer Award
After speaking to Mr. Shaffer’s colleagues, it’s clear that as a result of his tireless work ethic and knowledge of the industry, he is truly deserving of the Pioneer Award.
“Len Shaffer is the ultimate problem solver,” said Dr. Raksis. “Nothing pleases him more than finding an important printing problem, identifying people with answers or figuring it out himself, and then jumping in to implement the solution. If he has to travel around the world or work 18 hour days to do this, no problem.”
“Len has a vast amount of both technical and application experience, not only in North America, but on a global basis,” said Dr. Graham Battersby, vice president, research and development. “He has a lot of energy and passion for seeing technology developed and promoted, and because he knows a lot of people, he has been able to facilitate Flint Ink’s—and the ink industry’s—expansion.”
“Len Shaffer joined Flint Ink as a result of our acquisition of Sinclair and Valentine,” said H. Howard Flint, II, chairman and CEO, Flint Ink. “Although S&V was similar in size to Flint Ink at the time, its packaging business was much greater. Len has played a key role in developing the Flint Ink packaging ink business, and making the company a major supplier to packaging printers.”
Receiving the Pioneer Award is quite an accomplishment. Mr. Shaffer was understandably delighted to have received such an honor. “I was very proud to be honored with the award and equally honored to accept it on behalf of Flint Ink,” said Mr. Shaffer. “A lot of talented people never get honored. Certainly being part of a great organization gives you more visibility. Flint Ink really uses its people well and sees them as valuable assets. Each employee works with his manager to set up their own realistic and achievable goals then gives them the tools to meet those goals.”
Mr. Shaffer also credits his family with instilling in him a set of values that have helped him succeed. “There is no substitute for hard work. That is something I got from my parents. My father was a mechanic and that exposure really helped me. A lot of people can formulate an ink in the lab, but they can’t make it run on the press. Over the years, I developed a reputation for being able to take a marginal ink and make it run on a press by understanding the working of the press and how to manipulate it to make it work better.”
Great Leaders Make Great Companies
Working for Flint Ink has been a positive experience for Mr. Shaffer. He credits the leadership of Flint Ink with building the solid foundation upon which the company stands.
“Great companies don’t just happen by accident. Great companies are the result of great leadership and men of vision,” said Mr. Shaffer. “Flint Ink, under Howard Flint and Dave Frescoln, is really a great company. These man have vision and know how to make visions reality. Additionally, there is the dedication of the entire Flint family to the graphic art industry.”