Braden Sutphin Ink Celebrates 100 Years of Excellence

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 01.18.13

For Braden Sutphin Ink, 2013 offers a time to look back on its accomplishments over the years, as well as to look ahead to many more years to come.

For any business, making it to their 100th anniversary is something special. For a family-owned company, a century of service is extraordinary.

For Braden Sutphin Ink, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in the ink industry this year, 2013 offers a time to look back on its accomplishments over the years, as well as to look ahead to many more years to come. From its early days as the Braden Printing Ink Company to today, Braden Sutphin Ink has come a long way.

Early History of Braden Sutphin Ink

The beginnings of Braden Sutphin Ink occurred in 1913, when Jim Braden started the Braden Printing Ink Company, a letterpress ink specialist, on the fifth floor of the Vulcan building on St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland. Al Sutphin was the company’s first employee.

“Jim Braden founded Braden Printing Ink in 1913 after working in the The Phillip Ruxton Company, a chemical company in Cleveland,” said Jim Sutphin, Al Sutphin’s son, who joined the company in the shipping room in 1948 and was Braden Sutphin Ink’s president from 1967 to 1985. “My dad was hired as one of the first employees as a general worker, push cart delivery person, etc.

“After my dad went off to World War I, he returned to Braden, went into sales, and in the 1920s, he became a partner and the name of the company was changed to The Braden Sutphin Ink Company. My dad eventually purchased 100% control of the company in the late 1920s, just before the Great Depression.”

An entrepreneurial figure, Al Sutphin was an influential figure in Cleveland. In 1934, Al Sutphin bought the Cleveland hockey team in the American Hockey League, and in 1937, Mr. Sutphin built the Cleveland Arena on Euclid Avenue for his Cleveland Barons, moving his company into a new facility adjacent to it.

“My dad was quite an inspiration to all of us,” Jim Sutphin said. “He always wore a red tie, blue suit and white shirt, and never forgot a name. He was incredible.”

“Dad filled out 300 nights a year in the arena, whether it was hockey, boxing, high school and college basketball, the circus or ice shows,” said Cal Sutphin Sr., Al Sutphin’s son, who is the president of Braden Sutphin Ink. “He knew Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Sonja Henie and so many other entertainers and sports figures.”

Jim Sutphin said that in addition to his work with the company, Al Sutphin also booked all of the acts for the Cleveland Arena, and sold the ads and season tickets for the Cleveland Barons.

“Dad would work all day at Braden Sutphin and walk through an alley to the arena, where he worked all night,” Cal Sutphin Sr. added.

Al Sutphin owned the team and arena until 1949, when he sold it, using the proceeds to finish acquiring Braden Sutphin Ink from Jim Braden’s widow.

“He said it was the first time in his life that he didn’t owe anybody a dime.” Jim Sutphin said.

Above all else, Al Sutphin emphasized the importance of integrity.

“Dad always taught us about integrity,” Cal Sutphin Sr. said. “He said that his name was on the front of the building, so he always erred on the side of things being right.”

While Al Sutphin was the face of the company during its first 50 years, his wife Mary played a huge role, raising their six children and supporting Al’s ideas.

“I remember in 1934, my dad came home and told us that he wanted to buy a hockey team. My mom asked him why, and he said it was a good deal because the team was broke,” Jim Sutphin recalled. “Then in 1937, my dad said he wanted to spend a million dollars to build the Cleveland Arena. Now, most wives would have slugged him, but my mom was a saint, and our company would never have happened without her.”

“When we built our plant in Maryland in 1986, we dedicated the building to Mom and Dad, in recognition of all she had done and for putting up with all Dad did,” Cal Sutphin Sr. added.

The Cleveland building served as Braden Sutphin Ink’s home for the next 20 years, until the company moved to its present-day location at 3650 East 93rd St. in 1957, which it has added on to over the years, most recently in 1998.

Braden Sutphin Ink has continued to expand over the years. Prior to 1960, letterpress dominated printing and ink manufacturing. Sheetfed offset started to make its mark in 1960, with web offset appearing around 1970.

“When I joined Braden Sutphin in 1960, about 98% of our sales were letterpress inks,” Cal Sutphin Sr. said. “Printers started putting in small litho presses, and we grew with them.”

In 1992, the company built a new 45,000 square foot web heatset and forms ink manufacturing facility in Carlisle, OH. In 1999, the company acquired a Sacramento, CA-based offset ink manufacturer, giving it a presence on the West Coast, as well as Inco Company, a Cleveland-based offset ink company, in 2002.

While Braden Sutphin Ink is best known for its offset inks, the company diversified its product portfolio into the water-based flexo ink side, acquiring Water Color Graphics, Philadelphia, PA, in 1999, and adding Roli Ink Corporation, Milwaukee, WI, in 2000. Seeing opportunities in the growing digital marketplace, Braden Sutphin Ink started inkjet ink development in 2007. Today, the company has 12 branch operations in addition to its Cleveland headquarters.

“It’s a changing industry,” Cal Suphin Sr. said. “Diversification is very important. We continue to do well in flexo as well as our expansion into digital inks.”

The People at Braden Sutphin Ink

One of the keys to a company’s success is its people. Throughout the 100 years of the company, the Sutphin family has been a fixture at Braden Sutphin Ink. Although Al Sutphin stepped down as president in 1967, he remained active until his passing in 1974. Jim Sutphin joined the company in 1948, and left in 1985. Cal Sutphin Sr. joined the company in 1960 and is still is with the company, leading the Baltimore operations he opened back in 1976.

There are more family members who have played major roles. Ray Stoney Sr., who married Alberta Sutphin, opened the company’s first branch operations in Detroit, which he ran for more than 40 years.

Jim Leitch.
Jim Leitch is Braden Sutphin Ink’s CEO. He joined the company in 1989 after working at a large publicly-held company; the opportunity to work at the family-owned medium-sized company, where he could be involved in multiple facets of the business, appealed to him.

“Working for a family business is something you take to your heart,” Mr. Leitch added. “There is always an extra commitment and passion to sustaining our reputation.”

Along with Al and Cal Sutphin, the other 50-year member of the company is Ted Zelek, who retired as president in 1997, and remained on as chairman until 2005. Mr. Zelek rose from shipping to CEO and chairman of the board during his tenure at the company.

“Braden Sutphin is an excellent company to work for,” Mr. Zelek said. “It is a one-in-a-million story to start out at the bottom and be given the opportunity to progress through every aspect of the business, which allowed me to be successful. I enjoyed every moment of it. It was a very rewarding and enjoyable relationship.”

“Ted was an exceptional manager,” Cal Sutphin Sr. added. “When he became CEO, we took a quantum leap forward.”

Longevity isn’t limited to family members. Tom McManamon, a 40-year employee, rose from office manager to chairman of the board. G.L. (Tiny) Erickson and John Ritzic also worked at Braden Sutphin for four decades. The Schaffer family, between dad Tony and son Jay, have worked at Braden Sutphin Ink for 75 years.

“Tom was Dad’s right-hand man at the arena,” Cal Sutphin Sr. said. “He was a great counsel and go-to guy.”

Braden Sutphin Ink has emphasized service to the ink industry as well, long being active members of the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM). Jim Sutphin joined NAPIM in 1989, and served as its executive director from 1991-97. Al Sutphin and his sons received NAPIM’s prestigious Pioneer Award, as have Mr. Zelek, Mr. Erickson, Mr. Ritzic, Dan Neese and Byron Hahn, who both worked with Mr. Ritzic on R&D.

Jim Sutphin, Cal Sutphin and Mr. Erickson also received the Ault Award, the highest award in the North American ink industry, from NAPIM.

Today, the Sutphin family remains well represented, with current family members including CEO Jim Leitch; Michigan branch manager Matt Stoney; senior management member Cal Sutphin Jr.; and Tim Leitch, Gail Viecelli, Ray Stoney Jr. and Jamie Sutphin, who all are involved in sales.

Braden Sutphin Ink Today

Technological innovations have been a hallmark of Braden Sutphin Ink. Early on, Mr. Erickson, nicknamed Tiny because of his 6 foot, 4 inch, 250 pound frame, the company’s longtime plant manager and chemist, set the tone for the company’s technological leadership, and that mantle was picked up by other notable R&D figures such as Mr. Ritzic.

“My dad was a salesman, and Tiny was the R&D person,” Jim Sutphin said. “John Ritzic was another incredibly talented guy.”

Throughout the years, the company’s R&D teams developed new products, including NSHT (Non Scratch Half Tone) Black; Waterless (Dry Plate) Inks, working with John Curtain, the inventor of the plate from 3-M; H2-Only Inks, which ran only with water (no fountain solution required); Low Temperature Web Heatset Inks; Earth Pride Inks for hard dry; the Metrocolor system; and well before the environmental boom, the Eco Smart Certification Program for its Eco-Friendly inks.

“We have differentiated ourselves ‘the old fashioned way,’” Mr. Leitch said. “Quality products would open the door, and the consistency of those products would keep the door open.”

“We have never sacrificed quality, and we are innovative,” Mr. Zelek added. “Our Half-Tone Black inks were very special in the days of letterpress, and we gradually expanded into litho.”

Now, 100 years later, Braden Sutphin Ink continues to build on the foundations that made it a success. The company has always prided itself on service and quality, and its Technical Department consists of a team of highly skilled and experienced chemists and technicians. Technical Service specialists are highly trained and skilled in ink chemistry and pressroom conditions and variables, and are available around the clock to help solve any press-related problems that may occur.

“We are innovative, and pride ourselves on our service,” Mr. Zelek said. “Our people always respond quickly.”

Today, Braden Sutphin’s Research and Development and Technical Department, led by Marc Castillo, occupy approximately 5,000 square feet, and have state-of-the-art technical equipment to develop the new technologies of tomorrow.

The Future for Braden Sutphin Ink

In recent years, the ink industry has undergone many changes. Numerous companies have left the printing and ink industries, and competition is tough. However, Mr. Leitch believes that Braden Sutphin Ink is up to the challenge.

“With the competition fierce, it will take a leadership team and employee group that is just as fierce,” Mr. Leitch said. “And Braden Sutphin has been meeting that challenge and will continue to do so going forward. We have seen our position strengthened by staying committed to being a partner with our printer client. We believe this will be the cornerstone as we begin the next 100 years.”

Meanwhile, Braden Sutphin Ink’s leaders look back on a successful first century in business, and are looking ahead to many more years of achievements.

“When I tell people that we are celebrating 100 years, they say, “Wow,” said Jimmy Sutphin. “I guess you had to know my Mom and Dad. They were remarkable people who got our tradition going, and hopefully, we will last another 100 years.”