Sprint to the finish line Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

Ken Thompson says he’s at a low level in his life. The consummate entrepreneur, who has owned up to 18 businesses at one time, only owns four right now.

For a man who, at age 62, runs marathons and long-distance races for fun— including one he just finished from Florence to Faenza, Italy, (“most of the other runners had dropped out through the night,” he says) — it’s hard to believe there could be a low level.

Thompson spends most of his time these days running PlastiCards Inc., the corporate name for his three printing companies: Rainbow Printing in Green, Ultra Plastic Printing in North Royalton, and Daylux, a division of a N.J.-based company he just purchased. At work by 5:30 most mornings, Thompson starts his day with a copy of the Los Angeles Times. Not that his local Akron Beacon Journal doesn’t provide enough news. It’s not news Thompson is looking for. It’s trends. Trends that fuel ideas.

“I don’t know why it emanates from the West Coast,” he says. “I’ve often used things I’ve seen there as a leading indicator. It’s the first place you saw white hose. It’s the first place you saw black nail polish. It’s the first time you saw environmental law on emissions on companies like ours.”

Some of the trends Thompson has jumped on lately include highly resilient photo ID cards and weather-resistant cable markers. The idea for the photo ID cards came after the tragedy in Littleton, Colo. Suddenly, there was a surge in the demand for ID cards with magnetic strips. Most of the cards on the market could take about 2,000 to 3,000 bends before they cracked. Thompson developed one that could withstand 20 times as many bends, at a lower cost.

“We’re just starting to get a tidal wave now,” he says of the product line’s sales.

The idea for weather-resistant cable markers? While most people are just realizing that they are being offered cable service by two, three or even four different companies, Thompson saw this coming. He also foresaw a potential problem when the cable repair workers climb a pole to find several indistinguishable cables.

The solution? Weather-resistant markers. That idea was confirmed recently when the largest cable company in the U.S. placed an 80,000-piece order.

Thompson describes his business philosophy with one word: Opportunist. But not in the negative sense, he assures. He just jumps on every opportunity that presents itself.

“You hear the adage all the time, ‘When opportunity knocks, you’ve got to get up and answer the door,’” he says. “I contend that you better stay in the starting blocks, coiled tight, ready to spring forward to answer the door first. It’s not just enough to have an opportunity and walk to the door. You’ve got to be there first.”

The next opportunity Thompson is planning to take advantage of is a climb to the top of Mt. Everest. Like everything else, he must jump on this opportunity fast, because it’s illegal to climb the mountain past age 65.

But even as he nears that cut-off age, in true Thompson fashion, he is planning a 100-mile run to the base of the mountain first.

How to reach: PlastiCards, (330) 896-5555