Creating the Perfect Balance Earns Think Patented's Winther a Spot in Hall of Fame
Balance has long been a friend to Niels Winther. As a teenager, good balance enabled him to become a national judo champion in his homeland of Denmark. As a young man, balancing work with classroom instruction enabled Winther to successfully emerge from an elite training and educational program.
And today, it is balance within the product and service offering of Think Patented, a marketing executions firm based in Miamisburg, Ohio, that has elevated the chairman/managing partner and his firm to new heights. Throw in discipline, trust, integrity and an unflinching work ethic, and you have a clearer picture of Niels Winther, a 2015 inductee into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.
As much as balance can act as a tool for self-improvement, Winther points out that it can also be a weapon. “In judo, you fight with balance, whether you’re being attacked by a big opponent or a small one,” he notes. “You know how to get them off balance and away from you. That has had a positive impact on me over the long term, teaching me that there’s nothing to be afraid of in life.”
Winther’s professional career has been marked by a high degree of globetrotting. He was born in Fredericia, Denmark, about an hour from the German border—thus making him the first Danish-born national to be inducted into the Printing Industry Hall of Fame. His father was a manager in a facility converting straw to pulp, and the elder Winther also owned a farm, where all family members worked. And, like his counterparts in America, young Niels Winther had a newspaper delivery route.
Upon graduating high school, Winther moved to Copenhagen, where he was accepted into a three-year apprentice program for Scandinavia’s then-largest company, The East Asiatic Company (EAC), a global conglomerate with activities in various industries, including printing. It was a fascinating and perhaps somewhat grueling experience for Winther: He took EAC-sponsored university classes in the morning, spent about three to four hours doing office/trainee work, then returned to the classroom from 4-9 p.m. for more classroom instruction.
“They hired professors from business schools and put us through the equivalent of college,” Winther recalls. “Not everybody made it through. There were 140 people who started and, after graduation, EAC only offered 10 of us job positions abroad.”
Winther’s reward for making it through the EAC course load—which included serving a year of military service—was a dizzying array of three- to five-year stints at various EAC divisions around the world. His first stop was a three-year hitch at Heidelberg Eastern in New York and Atlanta as a management trainee. From there it becomes a complex game of “Where’s Winther”:
- He transfers to Dallas in order to become a regional administration manager for Heidelberg Eastern. Among the conditions for being sent abroad by EAC was that, for the next three years, Winther could not take a vacation or get married. “Those were different times,” he recalls. “So I was ready for a vacation after the three-year period, and I had also found my wife-to-be, Mary. We were sent back to Denmark on home leave for two months.”
- At the age of 25, while on leave in Copenhagen, an EAC superior asks Winther what he thinks of Hong Kong. Winther responds that he heard it is a nice place, which is just what EAC wanted to hear. The Winthers were then off to Hong Kong, where he becomes manager of a division that includes printing.
- Five years later, the Winthers’ tour of Asia gravitates to China, and they take up residence in Beijing. As general manager, he oversees numerous industry offerings, including printing gear as agents for equipment suppliers like Heidelberg and Muller Martini.
- In 1987, Winther moves back to Heidelberg Eastern in New York as senior vice president for sales administration.
- When EAC acquires Baumfolder in Sidney, Ohio, he takes the helm as president and CEO of the company until 1992, when it is sold to Stahl.
- Then it’s off to Singapore as a managing director for three years, followed by a three-year stint in the same role in Thailand.
Finally, in 1993, Heidelberg Druckmaschinen purchases EAC’s stake in Heidelberg Eastern, and merges it with Heidelberg West to form Heidelberg USA. Winther is recruited to join Heidelberg USA in Atlanta as senior vice president of marketing and sales in 1996. He eventually became president and CEO, adding Canada to his oversight. He had certainly earned his wings with Heidelberg, but Winther had another item on his professional bucket list.
“I decided that if I wanted to have my name on the door and own my own business before I got too old, that was the time to do it,” Winther relates. “I wrote a business plan around consolidation in the printing industry and the belief that ink on paper is not dead.”
Thus, in 2006—after resigning from Heidelberg—Winther and his ownership group purchased Patented Printing. The name “printing” was dropped in favor of “think” in order to turn it into a conversation starter. “Whenever people see the name, they ask what I do,” he notes. “Think Patented is a call to action.” Opening a dialogue with potential customers, he adds, was the main idea behind the new branding.
In less than 10 years, the company has undergone a stunning metamorphosis. Four companies have been “tucked and rolled” into Think Patented. It relocated into a bigger, custom-built facility, retooled with a new UV press and intensified the move to digital printing and mailing services that had begun. Winther diversified into wide-format, fulfillment, promotional items and information technology (websites, online storefronts). Its tagline is “A Marketing Execution Company.”
“It took a lot of planning—as well as investments in people, equipment and new skills—to transform from the ink-on-paper world into what we have become today,” he says. “The challenge to become a marketing execution company has been our greatest one so far.”
Winther has drawn much inspiration from his Heidelberg USA predecessor, Hans Peetz-Larsen, who was president of Heidelberg Eastern when Winther arrived in 1977. Peetz-Larsen saw the potential in Winther and always drove home the importance of a customer-centric approach to business.
Winther relished and benefited from his time with EAC and Heidelberg, but enjoys the liberation and latitude that comes with being an owner. “I love coming to work in the morning. There’s no big company bureaucracy at Think Patented; that’s been parked at the door,” he says. “I enjoy the interaction with my staff and with our customers. We have a great leadership team and an incredible staff with can-do attitudes. Our outside board of directors challenges us. We have a strategic plan in place but, if we need to alter it, we can do it quickly. It’s more like turning a speed boat and not a battleship.”
When the name Niels Winther is mentioned to industry colleagues and customers, the word “integrity” is a common phrase used to describe him. James Schultz, chairman, president and CEO of Cleveland-based Great Lakes Integrated—and a 1997 Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee himself—has known Winther for roughly 25 years, dating back to his Heidelberg days.
“Niels is very passionate about our industry,” Schultz says. “He gets energized by some of the new technologies and services that are becoming available. He is an innovative, high-integrity individual.
“What I also like about Niels is that he’s very sincere and has an outgoing personality. He’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. No matter what you ask of him, he’s more than willing to assist you.”
Rick Dyer, president of Sotheby’s Imprint in Boston, who has forged a 20-year working relationship/friendship with the Think Patented executive, calls Winther a thoughtful leader who works tirelessly to understand all implications of business decisions.
“We have the greatest respect for Niels in the businesses that he’s run, from Heidelberg to Think Patented,” Dyer says. “Niels is a mentor in helping us learn and better understand how print impacts our business. The man sets high expectations for quality, and he employs processes and procedures to yield those results. ”
Winther is active in both industry-based and civic/regional business organizations. He has served on the board of directors for NPES and NAPL (Epicomm). A member of both the Soderstrom Society and the Ben Franklin Honor Society, Winther was awarded with an honorary doctorate by Ferris State University in 2000. He currently serves on Dayton’s Chamber of Commerce—which awarded him Volunteer of the Year in 2014—and Miamisburg’s Rotary Club. Winther also sits on the board of a local business park.
Mary and Niels Winther have been married for 36 years and have two children: a son, Kenneth, 28, and daughter, Jennifer, 21. Kenneth is a graduate of Clemson University’s print management program and worked for Think Patented before moving to Copenhagen to learn about his roots and obtain an MBA. Jennifer is a senior at Ohio State University.
Winther focuses on his family when away from the office, but does allow himself the indulgence of hitting the road on his Harley Davidson. Kenneth hooked his father on scuba diving, and now the entire family is certified. They find that Bonaire, which is part of the ABC islands (along with Aruba and Curacao), is the best place to go diving.
“It’s a scuba diver’s paradise,” Winther points out. PI