A 30-year veteran at HP, Nigro was at the helm of HP’s initial move into commercial print back in 2005 and subsequently went to work for its consumer inkjet division. Now, as senior vice-president for the inkjet and graphic solutions businesses at HP, the printing industry remit is part of his portfolio again and it’s a much bigger product offering. PrintWeek caught up with the man running the industry’s biggest digital supplier.

Jo Francis Can you explain your new role?

Stephen Nigro I now have responsibility for the graphic business and the core inkjet business inside HP. There are no other dramatic changes inside the graphics organisation. It’s just combining things at my level. I actually started the graphics business inside HP – I was responsible for the initial creation and scaling of that business, so I have a reasonable understanding of the market and the customers, having been involved with it at a formative stage.

What were you doing in-between?

I was running the inkjet business. VJ [Vyomesh Joshi, executive president of HP’s Imaging & Printing Group at the time] came to me and said we need to revitalise the inkjet business, and asked me to move over there and put my attention on that.

That was a big mission: how do we get this inkjet business growing again? And we’ve done some really cool things, including launching a brand new technology this year that took multiple years to develop. Now, we feel good about where the inkjet business is headed, so the timing worked out for me to take on graphics as well.

You have a big job on your hands; it seems to be everything to do with ink on paper. What are your priorities in this role? Do you need to do some revitalising in the commercial print side of things?

My priority in any role is to innovate and grow. Regardless of where I am, I’m all about innovation. The great thing about graphics is it’s a growth market with the trend of pages going from analogue to digital, so that’s a great place to be. But the only way you’re going to get those pages to shift is to come up with a more compelling value proposition. That value proposition could be finding a cheaper way to run your print jobs, or the fact that you can do things with digital that you can’t do with analogue. So you have to innovate around that.

The agenda we’ve had and will continue to have is to continue to lead this analogue to digital conversion. The one thing that people don’t always appreciate is that we can leverage the scale of our desktop business in graphics to give us a fundamental advantage. That shows up in things like our inkjet web press and in our latex ink. All the research for latex ink was done in our desktop lab. It was a technology we were researching for the desktop and we ended up bringing it to the wide-format sector.

HP has such a diverse offering for the printing industry now, some of your customers think things could be a bit more joined-up at the customer-facing side of things. Do you think there’s room for improvement there?

I think that’s always an area where we can do better. HP is a really large company with lots of businesses. We’re always working on ways to make it easier for customers to buy from us and from our portfolio. Is it something we’re improving? Yes. We’re aware that one of the advantages we have is bringing our portfolio together for customers.

The overall printing segment at HP, including consumer products, had sales of $24.5bn (£15.6bn) in 2012 and made a profit of $3.6bn. How is HP’s graphic arts business performing within that?

We don’t make those numbers public. Graphics is a growth business for us. Especially in the printing space it’s tough to find growth businesses. That’s what makes graphics an attractive business for HP. It’s growing, but there’s always pressure to do better. It’s doing well inside our portfolio.

What about internationally, how is the business performing in different regions?

Again, that’s not something we talk a lot about. I will say that where you see economic challenges it impacts the business. We also see areas like Asia, like China, performing quite well. The way I would characterise it is, our business is impacted by what’s happening in the global or regional economy, but given the strength of our portfolio, we’re making progress.

A big topic here in the UK has been Ipex, of course, and HP’s decision not to exhibit. Why the all-or-nothing approach?

I wasn’t directly involved in that decision, but that decision has been made. It reflects the continuous change of how the world connects virtually and directly. Obviously, we have a big emphasis around our Dscoop customer forum. I was involved with the creation of it and I remember when we made the announcement and hoped to get 100 customers signed up. It’s amazing to see the scale of it now, and now that it’s gone global as well. Getting customers together is a powerful way to serve the industry and serve the customers.

Yes, it’s great news that EMEA Dscoop was successful in its first outing. What plans do you have for other exhibitions you’re definitely going to attend?

We’ll continue to participate in the shows necessary to show our portfolio and connect with customers.

You were at China Print, how was that?

We had a very large presence, effectively equivalent to what we had at Drupa. Some of the traditional print providers still had a reasonable presence because it’s one of the last remaining growth markets for conventional printing, but you also saw a great interest in digital. It’s a great market for us. It was successful in terms of participation and the amount of business we closed.

Talking of shows, how are things going with the roll-out of the new products you showed at Drupa? And Fespa is almost upon us, too.

We officially sold the new HP Indigo 10000 model in the first quarter and that’s the sort of disruptive innovation we like to see. We just announced the new HP Latex 3000 printer that will be shown at Fespa, and that’s another area where it’s pretty amazing what we’ve been able to do. It continues to open up new applications and drive growth. It’s about making sure we’re focused on areas where HP can bring a unique and compelling solution to the marketplace.

The Indigo 10000 seems to be proving popular here in the UK. How’s that product going in general?

We have more demand than capacity, which is often the case when you have a successful new product. And it is a new platform so we have some growing pains as we get it up to quality for all the various applications that are out there. It’s such a versatile machine – thin media, thick media, and lots of different substrates. We’re going up the engineering ramp to meet all the different applications out there. We’re refining the productivity of the machine as we speak.

What about the 20000 and 30000 models shown at Drupa. Any update on those?

From a flexible packaging and folding carton market we’ve had phenomenal interest. Lots of people want to participate and get involved.

So what’s the timescale for those products coming to market?

They will be commercially available in early 2014, with the first installations at launch customer sites by the end of 2013.

I was also wondering about the post-press aspects to some of these new models.

It goes back to the ramping of the applications and all the work that goes on. In some ways it’s unique from customer to customer. A lot of people want to go for an inline finishing solution from a productivity standpoint. We work with partners around different applications and there’s a long list of partner suppliers of finishing solutions for the 10000.

The other thing I thought was very interesting at Drupa was the imprinting system. At the time it wasn’t ready for Europe, is there any update on that?

We have beta customers using it. It’s a great example of where we’ve leveraged the innovation coming out of our different businesses in an imprinting solution that serves the needs of hybrid customers, in a cost-effective solution.

It’s notable that Kodak has gained considerable traction with its hybrid inkjet solution. What are your thoughts on a post-Chapter 11 Kodak?

We have lots of competitors in the marketplace and they’ll be one of the competitors that we have to compete with. I actually think it’s healthy for an industry to have more than one player, it’s good to have multiple players. Transformation happens when you have multiple players, and that’s where we are in this whole commercial printing area, which is going through major transformation. To have a viable Kodak out there… we’ll compete and the best solution will win.

Will Kodak be more or less of a threat than before if it’s perhaps behaving more logically?

I think it’s always healthy for a business to have your competitors making payroll and making a profit.

What about your former colleague Benny Landa with his Nanography offering? We should see the first Landa presses this year. What are your thoughts on that?

How can I put this… We’ll see, time will tell. My experience in announcements around new technologies and claims associated with new technologies is, you never know. We take all our competitors seriously. And of course Benny is an innovator in the industry and a very credible person who’s made major contributions. It’s something we’ll pay attention to. We have to make sure our solutions are going to be able to compete and have good plans in place for that, and you have to see exactly what happens and what comes to bear.

For example, Memjet has made a lot of claims through the years and you can see what’s happened versus claims. Scaling technology is difficult and you’ve got to see what the actual solution is versus what the claims are. That’s how the industry ought to be viewing what’s going on with Benny. But he is an innovative guy with a history of innovation. The industry should take him seriously and we’ll take him seriously.

You’re not thinking about licensing Nanography, then, and adding it as an option?

In general, we do best when we innovate and when we do what we do well. That’s the overriding approach we like to take.

How can printers and the print industry market themselves better to compete with the rise of digital, by which I mean online, and mobile communication channels?

That’s a great topic for the industry. That’s an area we call, strategically, ‘print relevance’. We do a lot of research on this topic, as you might imagine. We believe there are certain attributes of print that are unique and compelling. There’s no doubt there’s a fascination with digital, for very good reason, because it can do some things you can’t do with print. I think print has certain characteristics you cannot reproduce with digital. For example, print advertising is a more effective way to get your message across. Digital clutter makes it hard to get noticed. Print is there, it’s permanent, it’s just more effective. A high-profile example was the Obama campaign here in the US, he had a big print campaign and they were handing out brochures at all the rallies. They are big embracers of technology but they used print effectively in their campaign, for the very reason that it’s hard to get noticed without it.

I think the nature of print and where it’s used is going to change, for sure, but I think it has certain attributes. The industry has to embrace and go with the change, embrace social, embrace mobile, and the whole idea of how content comes from the cloud. If you do that and play to the strengths of print, then you’ll be fine. That’s what innovation is all about.

I guess with things like Snapfish and Magcloud you’re crossing over those two worlds. How are those businesses going?

They’re not huge businesses in the HP scheme of things, but they both grow. They’re good bellwethers of how print is going to change. If the industry is looking in the rear-view mirror, trying to do the same things as in the past, then it’s in trouble. If the industry is embracing digital and the new print applications, then the industry is going to be healthy. That’s our agenda, and that’s why we do digital print only, because that’s the future.

We’re not saying the world is only about print, we’re saying print’s going to be used where print makes sense. Those in the industry that embrace that approach will have a healthy future.

You joined HP in 1981, so you’ve seen a few changes. What’s the biggest?

There are times in the high-tech industry where it’s going through a very rapid shift. And when you’re in the middle of one it’s very noticeable – the PC, the internet. And we’re in the middle of one now, one of those big changes. It’s mobility, cloud, social. And when you’re in the middle of one of those shifts you have to embrace the future. HP, on the print side, recognises that; we embrace it and we’re putting our solutions together to go into that future.

What’s the next big opportunity for print?

I’m going to give you two broad opportunities: one is the role of digital print in the whole packaging sphere, that’s the next frontier for digital print. A lot of things that have happened in commercial print will happen in packaging. The other is how print interacts with this new world of mobile, social, cloud. I think there are some really exciting, ‘new print use’ cases. It’s new sources of content, new consumption models. That’s really exciting.

Fespa is almost upon us and you’ll be at the show – what are you looking forward to seeing, on the HP booth and beyond?

I’m always very interested in walking around the show and seeing what’s happening in the industry and what’s going on. I’m really interested in seeing how people respond to the HP line-up, our new latex offering, and we’ll also have another new announcement at the show. But really for me, it’s the applications. Where are the new applications, and what are people doing with our products? You find small printers coming up with applications that eventually go around the world.

Will you be seeing customers while you’re here in the UK?

At the show I’ll definitely see customers. That’s one of the great things about going to these shows; it’s a great place to see customers. And that’s also one of the things that’s so enjoyable about the graphics business: you get to talk to your customers. When you sell tens of millions of consumer inkjet printers, you really don’t get to talk to the customer. In graphics you do. To me that’s another big benefit of coming to these shows. Talking to the customers, finding out what’s important for them, finding out where they have challenges and how we can help them.

Are you going to be solely focused on Fespa or will you have time to do anything else, see some sights perhaps?

It’s all business. I’ll sightsee when I retire.

VJ went last year, Chris Morgan has retired – can we count on you sticking around for a while in the graphics arts business?

I have no plans to go anywhere. I can’t predict the future, but I am planning to be here.