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1998 Hall of Fame--The Son Also Rises

October 1998
When John E. Spenlinhauer Jr. passed away, the competition said Spencer Press was finished. John E. Spenlinhauer III proved the competition wrong.


In May of 1972, Spencer Press, then a sheetfed operation, took its first step into the world of web offset with the installation of a Heidelberg Harris M-1000A press. For John E. Spenlinhauer III—chairman, CEO and the driving force behind Spencer's equipment investments—it was a pivotal moment. He realized his Hingham, MA-based company needed web equipment to remain in business.

"There was not a full-size web in the metropolitan Boston area," Spenlinhauer says, "and there was a lot of web offset printing leaving the Boston area."

With the arrival of the M-1000, Spenlinhauer was upbeat. Then tragedy struck. In November of 1972, Spenlinhauer's father—founder of Spencer Press and John's inspiration—passed away.

"When my father died in 1972," Spenlinhauer shares, "I lost my father and my best friend."

And Spencer Press lost its leader. Competitors in Boston predicted that the elder Spenlinhauer's death would mean the end of Spencer. "They said, 'With the old man gone, these boys will never make it,' " Spenlinhauer recalls.

The competition was right about one thing: Spencer Press was in the hands of boys. John was 32 when his father died. His brother Stephen, Spencer's president, was only 25.

What the brothers lacked in age, however, they made up for in tenacity. The more the competition put Spencer Press down, the more John wanted to succeed.

"That made the hair on the back of my neck stick up," Spenlinhauer says. "I said, 'Not only will I make it, I'll blow you away."

While the competition was clinging to sheetfed, Spenlinhauer was committing his company to web printing. Before long, the boy whom the competitors never took seriously was stealing their business.

In 1975, Spencer Press added its second and third web presses, a Heidelberg Harris M-110 and another M-1000A. Installed at the dawn of in-line finishing, the M-110 became a gold mine after Spenlinhauer added in-line plow-folding capabilities—a service practically unheard of at the time.

Therein lies John Spenlinhauer's strength: Not only can he recognize value in up-and-coming services and technologies, he can predict the best time to invest in them. The direction he has given Spencer's manufacturing process has earned him a much-deserved spot in the 1998 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.

"John is unquestionably one of the smartest guys in the printing business," says Tom Romano, vice president of CRT Associates, a company specializing in retail mail order catalogs, and a longtime customer of Spencer Press. "John has the ability to know when to purchase capital equipment, but more importantly he knows how to pay for it. He's not afraid to grow his business by adding new equipment."

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