Print shop owners often complain about the difficulty of developing a succession plan as part of an exit strategy, especially given the lack of young talent – sometimes even their own children – choosing the graphics industry as a career path. Handing over the keys of a business to the next generation of leadership or ownership team before sunset is not an easy task, especially for a family business when options are few.
An industry insider who sold his family printing company didn’t want to go into the sunset. Charles Henry, who will turn 90 in July, sold Chas from Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Henry Printing – a company founded by his grandfather in 1898 – to Knepper Press in 2001. The sale included a two-year consultancy agreement for Henry … but he never went away.
“Charles is one of the most interesting people in the printing industry and one we all want to be more like,” said Ted Ford, co-owner of Knepper Press. Coincidentally, Henry also took part in the Carnegie Mellon University printing program with Jim Knepper, the father of Bill Knepper, the co-owner of Knepper Press.
Henry continues to work at half-time as a sales rep at the commercial printer in the Pittsburgh area, mainly selling longer-term offset jobs made at Knepper’s arsenal on Manroland heatset web, sheet-fed and roller presses.
His career spanned the industry’s transition from book printing to offset and from Linotype and Monotype typesetter to computer-aided typesetting. Chas. Henry Printing took over offset printing in 1938 with the installation of a Multilith and an ATF boss. Henry worked in a variety of roles during this time, but wasn’t officially put on the payroll until he turned 14 in 1944. He was President from 1963 until the company was sold.
Henry is still driving past old Chas. Henry Printing building, occasionally. “Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to do this anymore,” he admits. “I worry about payroll and spend all my nights and weekends doing the estimating and drafting work for the company.”
Henry considers the technological advances in plate-making to a computer-to-plate process and typesetting as the most profound improvements he has seen in his long career.
New breed of print buyers
“I want to keep working as long as I can,” proclaims Henry, who is still driving to visit his 25 or so active accounts, which are spread across Pennsylvania. He admits that the “typical” print buyer has changed recently. “Today there are fewer professional print buyers,” he says, “and the young buyers don’t want to meet you in person or even make phone calls. Instead, they want to communicate via email or SMS. “
But just as Henry went from selling book printing to offset output, he relies on his technical knowledge and advisory sales skills. “A lot of people who buy print don’t know much about the technology, so they like to turn to an old man like me for sources and answers to their technical questions.”
Passion goes beyond printing
But if Henry can admit he is old, he certainly doesn’t spend time in a rocking chair thinking about it. He plays the violin and viola in a local symphony, performs in a string quartet, actively participates in a book club, oversees the website and writes a newsletter for his local church – and even writes a copy to update Knepper’s website.
Oh, and he played tennis regularly until he reluctantly gave up in August 2016 because he couldn’t bend over easily picked up the ball because of his rheumatoid arthritis. “I also had a lung operation about a year ago,” says Henry matter-of-factly. “But thanks to robotics, I was only in the hospital five days.”
A father of three, who was married to his first wife for more than 50 years until her death, has now been happily married again to his second wife, who is a widow, for almost 15 years. Henry adds that he has been primarily a vegetarian for the past 50 years and has switched to a full vegetarian diet over the past 15 years.
With a passion for continuing to participate in an industry he loves – and a spirit that is still as sharp as a knife – Charles Henry, nearly 90, is an energetic industry star who continues to shine so brightly. If only all of our lifetimes could be so blessed with his sense of joie de vivre.