PITTSFIELD — Bill Hines Jr. majored in sociology in college, then expected to return to graduate school and maybe become a teacher. But, he found the business world to be his calling instead.
Hines is the co-managing director of Interprint,Inc. one of the world's leading printers of decor materials, a business that his father, Bill Hines Sr., brought to the Berkshires in 1985.
Interprint's Pittsfield facility is a North American subsidiary of a German-based company that was sold last year to a Japanese firm, Toppan Printing of Tokyo.
We talked with Hines recently about why he decided to work for his father, why Interprint has grown while some businesses have struggled, and why he finds motorcycle riding relaxing.
Q: How did your father bring Interprint to Pittsfield?
A: My father was working for the print division of MeadWestvaco down in south Lee. I guess that Mead had decided they were not going to make any more investments in their printing operations. So, he decided to work with Interprint to establish their U.S. operations.
Interprint already existed in Germany, and my father joined them to basically bring in enough sales in the first few years to eventually warrant manufacturing. He pursued Interprint, they found a good agreement together and that's how the business got started over here.
Q: You worked for other companies, including one in Germany, before joining Interprint. Why did you decide to come back here and work for your father?
A: First of all, that company in Germany [Minksjo] is a paper manufacturer in this industry. My father introduced me to them. I had actually worked for a few years, funny enough, opening Blockbuster video stores. It was a great learning experience coming right out of college. ... But, after about three years, I did the math and realized I was earning about $2.75 an hour because I was working about 88 hours a week.
During a discussion with my father one day, I said, "I'm getting a little burned out on the retail thing," and he said, "I know a company in Fitchburg that's looking to hire salespeople." So, I interviewed with a company in Fitchburg, which was German-owned.
After about a year there, the CEO was over from Germany for a company picnic and asked us if we'd like to go over there. ... So, a few months later we were on a plane. ... I learned a lot about the business I'm in now over there, at least from the paper side, and had some great people training me on the sales side.
After a couple of years there, my father called. The business in Pittsfield was growing exponentially. He needed a sales manager and asked if I would return to Pittsfield.
Q: Your father is very well-known in the Berkshires in business circles. Lots of sons wouldn't want to come back to their hometown and work under their father in a situation like that, due to the comparisons. But, that didn't seem to bother you, am I correct?
A: Of course, as with any working relationship, there are times where maybe I struggled with it. ... But, I learned a lot from him. I've also forged kind of my own management style and had to adjust my style to these changing times.
He was great at providing guidance and direction to the company. We still try and live by the mantras he established here. But, it's a different work environment these days. We're bringing in the next generation that's getting involved in manufacturing. But, I was very fortunate to work with my father and very fortunate that we still have a great relationship.
Q: When you started at Interprint, did you expect to succeed him at some point?
A: No, not necessarily. Actually, when I came back, I wasn't sure what was going to happen at that point. I was 28 years old, I had no children; it was "Let's give it a shot for a while." But, before I came to Pittsfield, I had to interview with the holding company in Germany because they also wanted to make sure that there wasn't going to be conflict, that I actually knew what I was talking about in this industry and that I fit into their environment well, which I think I have.
Even though I have the same name, I've established a name for myself in the industry. I do that a lot by working with great colleagues in Pittsfield. My co-managing director in Pittsfield is Roland Morin. He's a great engineer and we balance each other out well.
Q: Interprint has invested a lot in Pittsfield the last few years, including that $10 million printing press that was recently installed. Why has the company invested so much here, and how has it helped the company's operations?
A: We've always been fortunate to have ownership that believed in expanding at the right times, which is expanding into newer technology, to better production capabilities so that we can continue to grow. When your equipment gets old and your processes get old, you get stagnant and start to lose market share. That's why we are finalizing the completion of an even larger [$12.5 million] printing press that is specific toward the printing of plastic films. ... .It's already in the building. We're in the process of doing the final qualifications right now.
Q: Have there been any changes at Interprint under Toppan's ownership?
A: The structure has not changed. Here in Pittsfield, we still report through Interprint headquarters in Germany, then they report to Japan. ... There's been no major changes to the way we operate.
Q: Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your workforce in any way?
A: It's dipped down to about 145 [Interprint had 175 employees when Toppan agreed to purchase the company in June 2019]. There's been attrition over the past year with some employees. We did have to do some positional layoffs after furloughs [50 employees were furloughed, 20 we're laid off, but some of the employees laid off in manufacturing have been brought back].
Now, what we're trying to do is bring in more people for the manufacturing process. Where we're short on personnel is in the printing operation itself. ... In fact, we're trying to hire 15 to 20 people in Pittsfield.
Q: I've heard that you like to ride motorcycles.
A: I absolutely love to ride. It's one of the best ways to clear my head. I don't ride on highways or anything; I go out on country roads and up into Vermont.
You have to concentrate on what you're doing, so, it takes your mind off of everything else. It becomes kind of this peaceful Zen moment when you're only concentrating on just that. You can actually relax when you're riding.