A New Day at Central Ink

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 09.09.05

Led by chairman and CEO Richard Breen and new president Jack Ackerman, Central Ink makes an entrance into sheetfed and energy curing.

For years, Richard Breen, longtime owner of Central Ink Corporation, has been faced with countless rumors about the future of Central Ink in light of his age.

He’s heard story after story about competitors calling on customers and saying how Mr. Breen, 73, would not be at Central Ink forever, hoping to build uncertainty in the minds of their buyers.

“Everybody knew my age and rumors persisted,” Mr. Breen said.

Leading Central Ink Corporation’s new expansion are, top row from left, Doug Anderson, Jeff Ryder, Chris Locke and Richard Breen; and bottom row from left, Nick Komoroski, Jack Ackerman, Gregg Dahleen and Brian Kats.
In mid-2002, Mr. Breen decided enough was enough. He hired Jack Ackerman, former owner of Patriot Printing Ink, to be the new president of Central Ink, which had sales of $68 million in 2002 and is the seventh-largest U.S. printing ink company. Mr. Breen retains the titles of chairman and CEO.

Aside from helping with leadership, Mr. Ackerman’s main role is to diversify Central Ink from its heatset roots into sheetfed and energy-cured inks.

The first goal, making it clear that Central Ink is staying put, has been reached.

“When I joined Central Ink, it sent a clear message about our plan for succession and where the company wants to go in the future” Mr. Ackerman said.

Now, the hard work to reach out into new markets is underway.

Central Ink’s Past
Central Ink Corporation’s roots go back to 1933, when Mr. Breen’s father, Cecil Edward Breen, started the company as CEB Ink. The company’s initial focus was letterpress inks, In the early 1960s, the company transitioned into the web offset news ink market. When the company moved from Broadview, IL, to its present location in West Chicago, the name was changed from CEB to Central Ink Corporation. In 1978, web offset heatset inks were introduced and have since become its predominant product line.

Over the years, Mr. Breen has been interested in the sheetfed market, but his attempts to enter it in any meaningful way never came to fruition.

Hiring Mr. Ackerman helped put in motion the sheetfed and energy-curable product lines. Mr. Ackerman has been in the ink industry for more than 20 years, 10 of which was as founder and president of Patriot Printing Ink, a paste ink specialist. In 1998 he entered into a joint venture with Alper Ink Group.

A few years later Alper Ink Group itself was sold to Flint Ink, Mr. Ackerman left Flint Ink, and he joined Central Ink in the middle of 2002. For Mr. Ackerman, Central Ink is reminiscent of Patriot.

“I came to Central Ink because I saw a great opportunity,” Mr. Ackerman said. “Central ink is the hidden gem in the industry; our manufacturing capabilities are outstanding.”

Prior to becoming an “inkie,” Mr. Ackerman had worked in the printing industry, which he said has given him a strong perspective of his customers’ needs.

“Understanding the print process is very important for printers and ink companies alike,” Mr. Ackerman said.

Entering New Markets
With the addition of Mr. Ackerman, Central Ink has added the infrastructure to move decisively into its new sheetfed and energy-cured markets.

Since early last year, the company has added 67 more employees, bringing the company to 182 people. It has greatly expanded its sales staff, and on the technical side, has added technical directors Nick Komoroski (sheetfed) and Brian Kats (energy-cured products). They join longtime technical director Doug Anderson, who is responsible for web offset heatset.

Mr. Ackerman said that the opportunity to bring in experienced people has given the company a head start in the sheetfed and energy-cured markets.

“People became available and things started to happen,” Mr. Ackerman said. “It’s my personal belief that we are hiring a lot of talented people and we are going to empower them to help us get to the next level. That’s truly entrepreneurial.”

To add to its array of services, the company has commenced a mobile print diagnostics team and hired an industry veteran, Ron Schultz, to lead that effort.

“Print diagnostics helps us optimize our abilities and allows us to partner with printers to get optimum ink performance on press,” Mr. Ackerman said. “It is an extremely mobile team with high-tech capabilities.”

Production capacity is no problem for Central Ink, as the company acquired a 45,000 square foot building on property adjacent to its West Chicago, IL facility. As a result, the total amount of manufacturing and warehouse space is now 180,000 square feet. Also included in this acquisition are six acres for future expansion.

The Future for Central Ink
Company leaders say the initial results look promising.

“I’d say we’ve received a good reception in sheetfed during our first six months, and there’s also a very good reaction to the energy-cured product line,” Mr. Ackerman said. “It opens up the door to new opportunities. Our customers are contacting us to inquire about our new product lines.

“Our focus is to become a national company rather than a perceived regional company,” Mr. Ackerman added. “The strategy is to gain market share in our existing accounts, while opening up markets with our new products. All the tools are here for us.”

“Central has made a conscious decision to grow larger than we have ever been before but we want to do it one satisfied customer at a time, and when we get a customer we don’t want to lose them,” said Jennifer Kirkby, Central Ink’s new director of marketing.

Mr. Breen said that the widespread changes at Central Ink are positioning the company for tremendous opportunities, and adding Mr. Ackerman has been an essential part of that growth.

“We’re restructuring ourselves not to stay at $68 million,” Mr. Breen said. “We have had more things happen to us in the last 10 months than we have in the past 10 years. It’s a much bigger task than I thought, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jack.”

With its new product lines and key people in place, Central Ink should thrive in the coming years.