In 1980, Kohl & Madden Printing Ink (K&M) was a small ink company that manufactured oil-based inks for web heatset, no-heat, sheetfed and numerous other inks. Although it had sales of approximately $22 million, the feeling was that it lacked direction and was trying to be everything to everybody.
At that point, George E. Dunn was brought in by Ed Stanchi Jr. to become K&M’s new vice president of operations. Mr. Dunn had been the eastern division managerfor Sinclair & Valentine (S&V). It was hoped that he could help to bring a new identity to K&M.
Now, 24 years later, it is clear that Mr. Dunn has succeeded. Under his leadership, K&M decided to make its mark in the specialty sheetfed business, and through a series of new technologies and small strategic acquisitions, the company today is the leader in the sheetfed market, notching sales of $110 million annually.
On March 31, Mr. Dunn retired as president of K&M and corporate vice president of Sun Chemical, K&M’s parent company. It is a sign of the respect that Mr. Dunn has earned through his years of service to the industry that he received both the prestigious Printing Ink Pioneer Award from the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) and the Metro New York Printing Ink Association’s (MNYPIA) Man of the Year Award within weeks of each other.
“I’m flattered by the award and the recognition from the industry,” Mr. Dunn said of these awards. “I have to thank the people at K&M, because I was surrounded by good people. I have enjoyed the industry. It has been very good to me.”
In talking with countless industry leaders, these awards are truly well deserved. When colleagues and competitors alike speak about Mr. Dunn, they talk about the respect they have for him.
“George was the architect of the modern Kohl & Madden,” said Edward Barr, Sun Chemical’s former chairman, president and CEO. “When he joined Kohl & Madden, it was a company that tried to be a little bit of everything to everybody and didn’t do anything with excellence. George and his team focused on specialty sheetfed applications and small web offset, and they developed a reputation for great technology and tremendous service that propelled Kohl & Madden to the leadership of that market segment. George earned a reputation for his ability and integrity, and was well liked at Kohl & Madden, Sun Chemical and throughout the industry.”
“George has had a distinguished career at Kohl & Madden, helping it become one of the leaders in commercial printing,” said Wes Lucas, Sun Chemical’s chairman, president and CEO. “George has ensured the independence of K&M as part of the Sun Chemical family.”
Joseph Casper, K&M’s longtime technical director, joined the company a month before Mr. Dunn did. “It took us five years to break even, and after that, George gave us 15 years of continued sales and profits,” Mr. Casper said. “I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for George, there would be no K&M.”
“George and I crossed paths when he was working with Ed Stanchi,” said Ron Baker, president of US Ink. “We became very fast friends, and worked a lot on defining our respective strategies. He is a man of the highest integrity. When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank. “
“George is my friend, a great customer who is respectful of suppliers,” said Guy Trerotola, Eastman Resins’ business director, commercial offset. “Everyone knows his integrity and how honored and respected he is in the industry.”
“We have been fierce competitors and fierce friends, which is much more important,” said Harvey Brice, managing director of Superior Printing Ink. “I’ve had the greatest respect for George because he’s not only a competitor but also a gentleman.”
Joining the Industry
Mr. Dunn’s background is in accounting – he received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Manhattan College and his MBA from St. John’s University – and he first joined the ink industry in 1969 at Inmont.
“I was at Inmont for two years, then briefly went into pharmaceuticals before going to Sinclair & Valentine as controller in 1974,” Mr. Dunn said. “After two years as controller, I became the general manager of Ridgway Color & Chemical Company, a division of S&V. After Ridgway, I became the eastern division general manager for S&V.”
S&V’s decision to relocate its corporate headquarters would have forced Mr. Dunn and his family to move.
“They were moving their corporate headquarters to Des Moines, and I wanted to stay close to my family,” Mr. Dunn said. “We had just moved back to the East Coast, so I joined Kohl & Madden in 1980, where I became vice president of operations.”
K&M was still a small company, and Mr. Dunn quickly helped lead it to its present position in the sheetfed industry.
“At the time I was hired, we were a $22 million company, with 80 percent of our business in web and 20 percent in sheetfed,” Mr. Dunn said. “We realized that web was coming down in margins and that we had good sheetfed technologies and a very good reputation. Over the years, we transformed our business primarily to sheetfed.”
By 1987, Mr. Dunn was promoted to K&M’s president, and the company accelerated its growth, developing new technologies and acquiring small companies that offered new opportunities.
“We have grown in size, and have become the largest sheetfed ink manufacturer in the U.S.,” he said. “Our plan was to be in any city that could support a commercial ink manufacturer if we owned 15 percent of the business.”
As a result, the company made a series acquisitions, such as Graphic Fine Color in Baltimore, MD, which was owned by Harvey Ainbinder and Bob Peters; Graphic Color in Chicago, Colour Systems in Ohio and the West Coast, United and Thomas in California and Allied in Atlanta.
“We looked at how we could grow by acquiring these businesses,” Mr. Dunn said. “Some of these companies had nice technologies and they all had good people and management.”
By 1987, Dainippon Ink & Chemicals, K&M’s parent company, acquired Sun Chemical, and Mr. Dunn began to work with Mr. Barr.
“Ed Stanchi Jr. was the president of Kohl & Madden when I was hired and he and I became very close, and Ed Barr was major influence for me,” Mr. Dunn said.
The sheetfed industry has changed, and the business has become more competitive. Under Mr. Dunn’s guidance, K&Mhas remained an industry leader..
“We’ve tried to take costs out of our business, but since we are a service-oriented business, we must be where our customers are,” Mr. Dunn said. “The sheetfed business is getting smaller. There are still a lot of small sheetfed houses.”
Having additional branch facilities and in-plant operations are one area where costs have risen.
“Everybody is going into in-plants,” Mr. Dunn said. “What has happened is that you put an in-plant in, but you don’t take the cost out of your manufacturing plant. An in-plant should be self-sufficient. You could create a central manufacturing facility and place an in-plant in all of your large accounts. Also, each of your branch or service locations could function as an area in-plant for multiple customers.”
Mr. Dunn believes that K&M will continue to succeed in the coming years.
“I think Kohl & Madden has a good base,” Mr. Dunn said. “It has to provide the service that it has in the past, but it also has to change and take the cost out. For every ink business, we need different models for our different customers, whether it is folding carton, commercial or combination printer.”
Above all, Mr. Dunn is a family man. He and his wife Lory have been married 36 years, and they have four children: Virginia, George Jr., Richard and Joseph; and five grandchildren.
“Lory is the love of my life,” Mr. Dunn said. “She and the kids give my life pleasure and meaning.”
After his long and successful career, Mr. and Mrs. Dunn plan to enjoy their retirement.
“Our immediate plans are to do nothing through the summer,” Mr. Dunn said. “I’ll just help around the house and work on projects, and then we will enjoy some cruises. I enjoy travel, boating, skiing and water skiing, and also hope to play a lot of golf.”