Comparing prices is one aspect, but there is much more that is involved if the purchasing leader is going to bring the most value to his or her corporation. Understanding the products that are being discussed is important, as is knowing what is going through the sales person’s mind. For many companies, a varied background is an essential requirement for purchasing.
Flint Ink Corporation has taken that route when the company promoted Jack Benson to vice president, corporate procurement, with responsibilities for coordinating of raw materials and capital equipment procurement for Flint Ink’s global enterprise. Mr. Benson is an industry veteran who began with BASF as a chemist and had stints in marketing before joining Flint Ink in 1995. As a result, he has a thorough knowledge of what suppliers are bringing to him, and what his company needs.
“It’s rare that a company has someone with Jack’s combination of marketing, business and technical background in a procurement position,” said Bill Miller, president, Flint Ink North America. “It gives him critical insight, and as a result, we rely on his advice in making many important business decisions."
“When Jack came to Flint Ink he brought more than 20 years of technical experience with him from Inmont and BASF, two excellent training grounds,” said Craig Foster, vice president, general manager of global sourcing for CDR Pigments & Dispersions. “More importantly, he brought 20 years of relationships and integrity within the industry, which earns him a great deal of respect both within Flint Ink and within the supply base. Jack is a no-nonsense guy without any agenda other than to do the best for Flint Ink, its products, its customers and its suppliers.”
Joining the Ink Industry
Mr. Benson joined the printing ink industry right out of college in 1973.
“I was hired right out of RPI by Inmont. I had done my senior thesis on photo chemistry problems, and Inmont was working on UV inks. Everyone was devoting a lot of R&D to UV at the time. I interviewed for the job, and was hired as a chemist to work on UV inks.”
Mr. Benson began his career at Inmont's R&D labs in Clifton, NJ. He transferred to Cincinnati, where he worked in the company’s ink plant for five years before returning to New Jersey to work in Inmont’s pigment plant. He quickly became technical manager for product development, and was then promoted to technical director for paste ink.
It was a busy time for Mr. Benson. He and his wife, Yvette, were raising their three young children: Frances, who has graduated from University of Michigan and is with Deloitte and Touche; Erin, a sophomore at Michigan State, and Jonathan, who is planning to attend Western Michigan University next fall. He also earned his master’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
Mr. Benson’s career continued to move forward following BASF’s acquisition of Inmont, leading to his becoming a marketing director for the company in 1991. He also served on the Web Offset Association’s Supplier's Advisory Board from 1990-91, as well as the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation’s (GATF) Board of Directors from 1992-96.
“When Inmont was acquired by BASF, I was promoted to director of R&D for the commercial ink group,” Mr. Benson said. “I then had the opportunity to go from the technical side into marketing after the sale of our packaging interest to Sun Chemical, so I relocated to Michigan and became marketing director in the publication inks and pigments business.”
Sensing that BASF’s ink division was about to be sold, Mr. Benson moved to Flint Ink in 1995, and was given purchasing responsibilities.
“When I joined Flint Ink, I became group materials manager,” Mr. Benson said. “It was not a hard transition for me. I had the experience in marketing and product line management, where you have to look at your costs and whether they are bringing the value that you need.”
From 1995 to 1998, Mr. Benson was Flint Ink’s group materials manager for the publication inks division. He was promoted to director of materials in 1998, and became director of materials for North America from 1999 to 2003, when he was promoted to vice president, corporate procurement.
The Keys to Purchasing
As head of purchasing for Flint Ink, Mr. Benson utilizes the skills he has picked up throughout his diverse career, beginning with his tenure as a chemist and as technical director for Inmont and BASF.
“In the ink business, it helps to understand the technology and the raw materials that go into making the inks,” Mr. Benson said. “You have to know the basic blocking and tackling. This is where my technical background is useful. I can relate to what our technical people are talking about.”
This year, Flint Ink has formed two new companies, Jetrion LLC for ink jet ink and Precisia LLC for conductive inks. These innovative inks require ingredients that are new to the industry, and require Mr. Benson to keep up-to-date with the new technologies.
“There have been a few unique ingredients that we have to develop some expertise on for Jetrion and Precisia,” Mr. Benson noted.
For Mr. Benson, having spent time on the sales and marketing side of the business has provided him with a unique perspective.
“It’s not a bad idea to have a sales person work in procurement,” Mr. Benson said. “It’s interesting the insight you get from having been on the selling side and having the perspective of the person who is trying to sell you something. It’s an eye-opener.”
Having all of this background, Mr. Benson appreciates vendors who understand the ink industry.
“One of the things that I value a lot are supply representatives who understand our business,” he said. “Industry knowledge is a plus because then you can really start talking, and you don’t have to answer a lot of preliminary questions.”
Ultimately, technical, operations and purchasing work together to select the products that the company needs.
“The key is that procurement and technical staff work in concert for the development of raw materials,” Mr. Benson said. “They have the experience to know what will work, and we know the costs and the commercial merit. We provide the reality check.”
Having seen the ink business from many sides, Mr. Benson said he has been satisfied with each aspect. He added that being in purchasing is an interesting field.
“At the end of the day, you have to make sound business and technical decisions,” Mr. Benson said. “I am enjoying this very much.”