Ink Inc

Employee Ownership Helps Drive Western Printing Ink’s Success

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 12.03.09

There is something special about the way a well-run employee-owned company operates. When employees have an ownership stake through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), they are more likely to remain with the company, and will have an extra incentive to best serve their customers.

Such is the case with Western Printing Ink, an offset, sheetfed and energy-curing ink specialist located in San Francisco, CA, which is one of only two U.S. ink manufacturers to institute an ESOP.

“We have a great group of hard-working people here, and we don’t look at ourselves as just employees,” said Gary Burk, president of Western Printing Ink. “As a result, we have very little turnover. Once somebody comes to work with us, they generally stay with us long term.”

Western Printing Ink’s devotion to service isn’t just tied to its employee ownership. Actually, it is a tradition dating back to the company’s beginnings in 1959, when Rudy Burk, Harold Wayne and Les Hummel left the labs of Cal Ink to start their own business. They found that offering incomparable service was the best way to first get noticed by customers.

“The only way they could break into the ink business was to provide spectacular service, such as being able to supply ink at a moment’s notice,” said Mr. Burk. “We have continued to build our reputation on the service we provide.

“We see a lot of larger competitors that try to sell by price only,” Mr. Burk said. “We try to get a fair price for our products while providing excellent service.”

Mr. Burk started with the company co-founded by his father 30 years ago, beginning in the plant weighing ink and working his way up through color matching, production and the labs, where he worked closely with customers. He attributes his knowledge of the ink industry to the three co-founders.

“They were all good task masters,” Mr. Burk said. “I learned everything about the business from them.”

Mr. Wayne set the employee ownership program in motion when he decided to retire, and wanted to give the company’s employees the opportunity to acquire the business.

“Mr. Wayne was the final owner left, and he wanted to sell the company,” Mr. Burk said. “He offered to let us roll our profit sharing money into the company. We wanted to keep our tradition.”

The employee ownership program gives everyone at Western Printing Ink added incentive to go the extra mile for customers, such as developing new high-quality products.While Western Printing Ink’s main focus has been on sheetfed offset and high quality oil-based inks for litho presses, the company has found the energy-cured market to be a lucrative opportunity.

“We’re doing quite a bit of UV litho and electron beam (EB) now,” Mr. Burk said. “We’re becoming known for our EB inks and coatings, and are getting our inks on the new Drent Goebel VSOP presses.”

Mr. Burk said the company’s continued success would make Western Printing Ink’s founders proud.

“We definitely are growing, and have plans to continue to do so down the road,” Mr. Burk said. “I think our founders would be pleased.”

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