Johnson & Quin CEO David Henkel Is 2022 Printing Industry Hall of Fame Inductee
David Henkel’s path in life — his ultimate trajectory — really began after his father’s service in World War II, when his family moved to the suburbs of Chicago. While Henkel willingly admits he “didn’t have a strong sense of direction” in his early life, he was distinctly interested in sales and marketing, and attended the University of Illinois (B.A. in economics) and Indiana University (MBA in marketing). Following post-college positions in marketing research and medical supply sales, the family business, Johnson & Quin, beckoned. Henkel’s father, Robert, had purchased Johnson & Quin in 1960.
Johnson & Quin, in Niles, Illinois, has a long history in the printing industry. Henkel highlights that the company is 145 years old, based on records. He believes the business may even be older than that — the true age perhaps unknowable — due to the loss of city records during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Henkel’s career involvement began July 1, 1977 — “45 years and counting,” Henkel says — when he joined Johnson & Quin as a sales representative. When he started at the company, it produced a combination of very specialized forms — one for the medical segment, another for the telecom industry. His first assignment was to look for emerging market opportunities.
The Quest for Innovation
During that search, Henkel met a marketing research person on a trip to Dayton, Ohio, who told him about laser printing, which was just emerging as a technology. The opportunity Henkel saw was to use a laser to image pre-printed forms. Using a Xerox 9700 printer, Johnson & Quin’s trajectory began to change. “We were the first source for pre-printed laser forms,” Henkel notes, “and almost immediately, we started changing the company over to that new arena.”
This commitment to finding new technologies and maximizing them is a strong element of Henkel’s decades of leadership at Johnson & Quin, helping him earn a spot as a 2022 inductee into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame. A long-time colleague attests to that: “If you take a step back and look at his career,” Bob Arkema, Johnson & Quin’s executive VP, notes, “Dave really was an innovator.” Henkel transformed the business, Arkema says, from a standard commercial printing operation into direct mail and direct mail production.
Today, Johnson & Quin is 100% digital, primarily producing marketing materials and high-value digital documents using continuous-feed production inkjet equipment. According to Arkema, the company’s interest in high-speed inkjet technology started early and, when the time was right, brought profound change. “Dave started looking at inkjet as early as 2008,” Arkema says, “and really started getting interested in 2014.”
When the time was right, transformation was swift. “By 2018, our last toner box was gone,” Arkema points out. He adds that the move to inkjet utilized an all-in approach: “Migrating our own business to inkjet felt risky at the time.” That strategy, in time, has proven to be prescient.
“The company has become high-tech,” Henkel says, “with more volume and half the number of people. White paper in, and full-color out. The technology evolution has been constant.” He notes that today’s machines can be utilized with higher levels of flexibility.
The Successful Path
When his father retired in 1987, Henkel, who was then VP of sales, became president of Johnson & Quin. He held this position until recently when his son, Andrew Henkel, became president. David Henkel now serves as CEO.
During his tenure as president, Henkel says the most profound change has been in technology: front-end and prepress tools, laser then inkjet, downstream finishing, the move from cut-sheet to continuous-feed printing. Henkel welcomed all of this change with the future of the company in mind. Like other business owners, he had to guide the company through difficult periods, particularly post-9/11, the 2008 crash and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re beholden to marketers,” Henkel says, “and they had to go on a serious pause.” He says that while recovery times were different, Johnson & Quin has, in each case, recovered. Arkema says Henkel’s leadership has been particularly impressive during these challenging times. “He’s really stepped up when things have been down,” Arkema notes. Henkel’s steady leadership, he says, has given good comfort: “Things will be okay,” David would tell us, “and he would give the reasons why.”
Beyond being the leader of his company, Henkel has also been a leader of people, fostering careers and maximizing the potential he sees in others. Kay Wilt, Johnson & Quin’s director of marketing, notes that Henkel has been a strong supporter in her career: “He’s always thought of me when there was a new challenge or area that needed someone to step into.” She believes Henkel has always recognized her knowledge of the company, and her abilities, which continue to grow.
Arkema points out that Henkel’s leadership has also been great for his career: “He gave me an opportunity to move from sales, to management, and then to an executive role — he believed that I would be good in my role, and good for the company in general.” Arkema says he appreciates how Henkel would bring him into challenging situations and let him figure them out for himself.
Wilt says that in addition to being a good businessman and having good people skills, “he also has a kooky side.” For example, she says, he would pull out a pair of funny-looking glasses to get a laugh or to break the ice to work out a difficult issue.
About the company culture, Wilt adds, “It’s a tribute to Dave and his family, the senior managers are still in place.” Like his father before, then Dave, now Andrew, the doors are always open. She describes the company as “a great people-oriented environment.” Arkema adds the operation has “a very professional culture that is not at the whim of the owner.” He explains that collaboration is always a key part of making decisions.
About the generational “transfer of power” that has taken place at Johnson & Quin, Dave Henkel says the change has been well-received by all parties involved. “At so many printing companies,” he says, “it’s about the owner, but that’s not our style.” With this statement, he implies the team-based approach he has built into the company.
The Strength of Community
As a business owner, and a strong believer in the power of print, Henkel was involved in the founding of two user groups: Xplor and the Imaging Network Group (INg). “They have been a good source of connection with the industry,” he says. Arkema highlights this industry-focused leadership, and Henkel’s involvement in the Direct Marketing Association, stressing his “willingness to share and get others involved, and in his belief that all players in the industry should have a right to succeed.”
Henkel also initiated a college recruiting program to bring graduating seniors into positions in sales and operations. The program required the development of a training program for those recruited. He says, “It was a great way to blend hiring industry veterans with strong, entry-level positions.” Further, it helped Johnson & Quin develop its own pipeline of industry talent. For those just entering the industry, seeking their own, strong trajectories, Henkel offers, “Try to pick a strong company with a good reputation.”
Benefits of Leadership
For more than a decade, Henkel notes he has been on the path to retirement. “I’m 76 years old,” he says, "it’s a logical generational change.” For about a decade, he has been working on backing out of the detailed aspects of the business and focusing more strategically. He wants to stay involved. As to when full retirement will become a reality, Henkel points out, “My grandfather spent 50 years in the business. That sounds pretty good to me.”
About Henkel’s induction into the Printing Industry Hall of Fame, Wilt says, “We’re all proud of what he’s done in his career, and his management of Johnson & Quin. He should enjoy this time of recognition, especially as he gets more into retirement.” Arkema agrees: “It’s extremely well-deserved. Dave has a great reputation in the industry. Everybody likes him. He has a willingness to share.”
Of his life outside of Johnson & Quin, Henkel says, “I’ve been married 54 years, have two married kids, and four grandchildren.” He and his wife have been spending the winter months in Florida for the past six years. He likes to stay active and enjoys running (he has run several marathons in his life), golf, and skiing, though he admits age is encroaching on that activity. Henkel is also a dedicated reader of history and participates in a history book group.
Henkel shared the story of his involvement in a United Airlines program where those who could fly to 50 states in 50 days would receive a one-year, first-class pass on the airline. He committed to the goal, and not just with his flying comfort in mind.
In addition to gaining the first-class pass he sought, he was able to use his involvement in the promotion to “meet the right people” at United Airlines Mileage Plus — a prospect he hoped to land. “Within three months,” he reveals, “they were a major account. I had a lot of fun with that.”
The Well-Planned Future
“He set me up for success,” Andrew Henkel notes, “and put me with a team that is very well-thought-out.” He says what his father has taught him the most “is that he’s led with a huge emphasis on creating a culture built around respect for everyone.” About his father’s induction, he says, “it’s very well deserved — he has shown leadership in the industry and has been a good example how people should treat people, customers, vendors, and their competition."
As to his father’s successful trajectories with Johnson & Quin: “He took a company that was a commercial printer and jumped into new areas as early as anyone. Whether through luck or skill, he found the right times to invest in technology — where quality, cost, and demand all meet. He’s been able to get it right.”