Norm Harbin of Flint Ink Receives Pioneer Award

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 10.30.09

He has assisted in the development of a variety of news inks and lithographic ink systems widely used in the newspaper industry today

Norman A. Harbin was recently honored with the prestigious Pioneer Award from the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM).

Mr. Harbin began his career 27 years ago as a chemist in the news ink lab at Flint Ink Corp. in Detroit and has been closely involved with news inks ever since. He has assisted in the development of a variety of news inks and lithographic ink systems widely used in the newspaper industry today. These included the development of environmentally friendly formulations; water flexo printing systems and “rub free” lithographic technologies, among others. Over the years he has held positions of steadily increasing responsibility in laboratory, product development and marketing areas and is currently Flint Ink’s vice president of business and technical development for news ink.

Mr. Harbin has a long and distinguished record of service to NAPIM. He has been a member of NAPIM’s News Ink Technical Committee for 20 years. He participated on the NPIRI task force to develop improved press-side methods for measuring water content of litho inks and later on the task force on ink/water interaction. He has also represented his industry in the affairs of the Newspaper Association of America and the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, serving on several important technical committees of both groups over the years. He has been a speaker at NAPIM’s Technical Conference as well as a number of prestigious groups in the newspaper industry.

Mr. Harbin’s long career in the printing ink industry began by pure coincidence.

“It would be nice to say that my early ambition was to have a career in the ink industry, but like most of us, this was not the case,” said Mr. Harbin. “I lived in the Detroit area, and as I neared graduation from my undergraduate studies in college, I was working part-time at a local tool and die shop. I was outside the shop having lunch when I saw a Flint Ink news ink tank truck drive by which spurred me to send my resume to the company. To this day, I can only guess what the tank truck was doing in that area, as it was a residential area with no printers that could accept bulk ink. But if I had not seen the truck, I likely would not have ended up working at Flint. Nearly 28 years later, I think about what I would have missed if this had not occurred. Not only has it ended up being a great career, but I also later met my wife Cindy while working at Flint Ink.”

Mr. Harbin credits a number of people as having had a positive influence on his work ethic.

“Many have helped me,” Mr. Harbin said. “My father was a large influence in my decision to study chemistry and science. He had a great career in a similar role in another industry, and I always respected what he could do and accomplished over the years.”

At Flint Ink, Mr. Harbin encountered a number of knowledgeable people who helped him in his career.

“As I began my career at Flint, I soon had the opportunity to work under the guidance of Bertram Bates, Robert Flint and Bob Savageau,” Mr. Harbin said. “Each of these individuals helped me understand the science of printing inks, and gave me an early understanding of the ink business. In later years as I became more directly involved with our customers in sales and related activities, I had the opportunity to work with David Flint and Roy Beagle. From each I learned how to interact with our customers and the importance of customer relationships. From them I learned how to apply my technical background to helping our customers achieve their own goals–which was good for our business, as well as my personal growth.”

Mr. Harbin’s colleagues value his contributions to the company as much as he values theirs.

“Norm has an extremely high level of technical credibility when it comes to the news ink business,” said Howard Flint, chairman and CEO, Flint Ink. “Our customers look to his abilities to solve their printing and production problems.”

“Over the years, Norm has developed an unusual combination of technical knowledge and people skills that has been very effective in working with customers,” said David B. Flint, executive vice president, Flint Ink. “He has great credibility on the technical side, and he is able to explain things in a way that customers can easily understand.”

“Norm has contributed to the success of our news ink group for many years though his technical experience and his ability to solve customer problems and satisfy customer business needs,” said Mike Green, VP and GM, Flint Ink North America News Ink.

“I have worked with Norm very closely throughout his years of dedicated service,” said Roy Beagle, VP, Global News Ink. “Norm should be recognized not only for his contributions to the growth of Flint Ink, but for helping the industry in print quality improvement. He has been requested to speak as an authority on ink and printing in regions of the world.

“Much of Flint Ink’s growth from a small player to having half the news ink market can be attributed to Norm’s dedicated efforts,” Mr. Beagle said. “I’m certainty proud to be associated with Norm Harbin in business and as a friend.”

Mr. Harbin noted that the accessibility of his supervisors helped him in his work. “One nice aspect of Flint Ink that continues is the internal culture that you can walk at most any time into the office of Howard Flint or Dave Frescoln for a conversation. These interactions helped guide my development and approach, which is invaluable.”

Through his years Mr. Harbin has witnessed the ink industry’s evolution.

“The ink industry (as well as the printing industry) seems to have evolved from a great number of regional companies, to more of a global industry today with significantly greater levels of competition. This means we must adjust and make sure we provide both the value and service required to help our customers achieve their business goals. Although business seems to be more difficult today, I suspect part of this is because we tend to remember the good times from the past and forget the difficult aspects. I continue to see new opportunities in our industry every day, which will allow our industry to thrive if we continue to appropriately adjust to these changes in the future.”

Upon learning that he had been chosen as a Pioneer Award recipient, Mr. Harbin was both surprised and honored. “I guess the first reaction was shock before the realization of the honor set in,” said Mr. Harbin. “It is tremendous to be in the company of all the great individuals that have been honored in the past with this award.”

Mr. Harbin advises that in order to succeed in this industry you need to have a clear plan.

“I believe that key to success is to first think carefully and truly understand what you are dong in your role in the industry,” he said. “Then try to meet and hopefully exceed expectations of everyone that you work with. This not only includes all-important customers, but also your supervisor and your co-workers. Adopting this belief and a lot of hard work should help you succeed in the ink or any other industry you may select.”

Mr. Harbin plans to continue his hard work in news ink. “I enjoy the printing ink industry, and especially the news ink segment of the industry. I plan to continue to shape our industry and our business, and respond to the changing and increased needs of customers’ business.”