In 1982, the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) inaugurated its Award for Technical Achievement to an ink maker who has made an outstanding technical contribution to the printing ink industry.
Considering her years of dedication to the ink industry, Lisa Hahn, founder and president of Flexo Tech, definitely earned this year’s award. Ms. Hahn’s expertise in research and formulation has led to the success of her business, while her efforts on behalf of the National Printing Ink Research Institute (NPIRI) are tremendous. She has taught at the NPIRI Summer Course for 12 of the last 13 years, only missing once because of illness. She is a frequent presenter and moderator at the NPIRI Annual Conference, is a frequently publishedauthor and also serves as an advisory board member for Ink World.
When William Rimel III, NAPIM’s president, announced that Ms. Hahn received the 2002 conference in Marco Island, FL, Ms. Hahn said she was “shocked.” However, Ms. Hahn was likely the only person in the room who was surprised by her receiving the honor.
Reaction to the Award
Ms. Hahn said that she was astonished when her name was announced.
“I was so shocked,” she said. “A lot of people thought I knew because I was so composed when I got up to speak, but tears were running down my face. After they put the medal on me, I looked out and so saw many people who supported me all these years, and I felt so calm.”
Her colleagues were not at all surprised that she was honored. Dave Peterson, president of Eiger Machinery, spoke of Ms. Hahn’s enthusiasm and support for the ink industry.
“Lisa has a genuine love and excitement for the industry and for NPIRI, and she works hard to advance the industry and support those who need help,” Mr. Peterson said.
“Lisa is someone who is not afraid of work, and is able to get to the root of questions and get answers,” said Michael Gettis, director of business development at Colorcon. “She is a good instructor who doesn’t talk down to people, and she can tailor her presentations based on her audience.”
“She’s the best,” said Jimmy Sutphin, former executive director at NAPIM. “She’s a dedicated person to the ink industry. She’s a very brilliant person, and she really knows her stuff. She’s always asking what she can do to help.”
Jean Lavelle, NPIRI’s technical associate, Sinclair Laboratory at Lehigh University, has known Ms. Hahn since she started teaching the NPIRI Summer Course.
“She’s absolutely great,” Ms. Lavelle said. “I could tell back then that she had tremendous technical talent and drive. She’s extremely knowledgeable without losing any of her charm. She’s a really sharp businesswoman who is personable. She works very, very hard, and she’s always willing to help. I just think she’s an outstanding individual. She’s a real role model for women in the technical world.”
Joining the Ink Industry
Ms. Hahn began her career in the ink industry 18 years ago as an intern, and quickly became engrossed with the world of ink..
“I was at Framingham State College in Massachusetts and I needed a summer job,” Ms. Hahn said. “My dad worked as an adhesives chemist and he suggested I get a job at his company, Dennison Manufacturing. I went there as a summer intern in 1984. They were still making typewriter ribbons and carbon paper inks, stamp pads and flexo inks, and that seemed like the place for me. They hired me on the spot, and I stayed on as a full-time chemist for five years.”
After a brief stint at W.R. Grace, where she worked on cement and concrete chemistry, Ms. Hahn returned to the ink industry as technical service manager for printing inks at Cabot Corporation. She had even begun her affiliation with NPIRI by teaching at NPIRI’s Summer Course. Her life changed when she met Byron Hahn (her former husband).
“I was happy at Cabot,” Ms. Hahn said. “I met Byron, left my job and moved to Cleveland in 1991 and got married.”
Ms. Hahn wanted to stay in the ink industry, but jobs were scarce, so she started out on her own.
“It was a hard time to find a job,” Ms. Hahn said. “I felt that the way to stay involved was to start my own ink company, and as I worked toward that, my first customer, Mike Gerkin of Kustom Group, came to me. He wanted me to do some outside formulation work for them.
“After three months of doing formulations, I started to rethink the idea of manufacturing, because of issues like OSHA, shipping and the like. I decided my real talent is working on the bench,” Ms. Hahn said. “I believed I could make a living out of custom formulation and raw material evaluation.”
Starting Flexo Tech, her own consulting business was not easy, and Ms. Hahn had opportunities to join other companies, but she persevered.
“The first three years were really lean,” Ms. Hahn said. “There was a lot of resistance, because companies did not like to go out and use outside people. During my first year, BF Goodrich wanted to hire me to run their graphic arts program, but I’d have always asked myself if I could have done it on my own. I knew I was doing the right thing for me.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Hahn was continuing her efforts for NPIRI.
“From 1991 to 1997 I taught at RIT’s Introduction to Printing Inks twice a year, and taught at Lehigh University since 1991,” Ms. Hahn said. “Jimmy Sutphin was NAPIM’s executive director, and he knew me, and I volunteered to help with it. It is fun to do it, which is the overriding thing. It’s fun to be involved in NPIRI and to help determine its direction.”
Flexo Tech has continually grown since those first few years. “Today we’re doing pretty well,” Ms. Hahn said. “You have to be able to demonstrate expertise in many different areas. Currently I’m working on ink formulations, surfactant and defoamer projects and printing and coating projects. I have one patent and one other pending.
“I have to do things that make a difference,” Ms. Hahn said. “I get to evaluate a product and say why it will work or offer ways to create magic. I’ve made changes that saved projects. I recently designed an indoor paint that is currently being marketed by Great Indoors. That’s very exciting to me. Hearing someone say that they have a problem that no one has been able to solve is like music to my ears.”
Ms. Hahn has never forgotten her roots as an intern, and she offers similar opportunities to students.
“By the mid-1990s, I started making money and started to hire students from Ohio State to work in my lab,” Ms. Hahn said. “Once upon a time I was one of them, and that internship really jump-started my life.I offer internships so the students can get credits while being paid. They are energetic and want to learn.”
Outside of the Industry
It should come as no surprise that Ms. Hahn puts just as much energy into her life outside of the industry, whether it’s flying her airplane, returning to finish her master’s degree or skiing, which she has done since she was 12.
In particular, learning to fly a plane was a challenge.
“In 1994, I knew people who were flying their own planes, and I just decided to sign up,” Ms. Hahn said. “I was scared to death, but I was fascinated by the idea of piloting one’s own plane and being able to fly to where you wanted. Now I have a Piper Arrow single engine with one passenger and 150 mile per hour cruising speed, and I’ve flown as far as California.” In fact, when she purchased her plane, she met Jeff Fine, who is now her life partner.
Considering her technical expertise, going back for her master’s degree doesn’t seem necessary, but it still bothers Ms. Hahn, and she is determined to complete her degree.
“I attended grad school at Kent State and got most of my master’s degree, but I was a few courses shy with an A average,” Ms. Hahn said. “It’s been hanging over me. I’m now finishing my master’s in polymer science at Lehigh via satellite.”
As for skiing, Ms. Hahn competed in the 2002 NASTAR National Championships in Park City UT, finishing 15th in her age group.
Whether she is working on her business, helping NPIRI or enjoying recreational activities, Ms. Hahn believes in giving her all into what she is doing.
“I put my energy into doing what I do,” Ms. Hahn said. “The ink industry really is a good industry. There's an allure to it. I do what feels right, and good things keep coming.”