Former IFS chairman passes away

Tony Hards RIP

Tony Hards was well known and liked in the industry
Tony Hards was well known and liked in the industry

Tony Hards, former chairman and managing director of Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS) and Graphic Arts Equipment (GAE), has passed away.

Born Anthony Edward Hards on 27 November 1939, he died at the age of 84 on 19 December 2023.

He is survived by his wife Pauline, two grown-up children, Gary and Juliette, and two grandchildren, Henry and Tillie.

The family told Printweek that Hards had been living with Alzheimer’s for some years “but was still able to live a pretty normal existence up until about six months ago”. But they added he didn’t suffer and was surrounded by his family until the very end.

He was comfortable in his final days and died peacefully after being looked after by excellent staff at Lister Hospital in Stevenage, who let him pass with dignity, his family added.

His son, Gary Hards, paid tribute: “Dad had a heart of gold, loved his family very much and was loved by his family very much. A big character, very sociable, dependable and would do anything for anyone. A true gentleman, a man of his word, kind and always fair.”

IFS managing director Eric Keane said he and the business were very sad to learn of Hards’ passing.

He wrote: “Tony’s long association with IFS dates from 1965 when he joined our forerunner company GAE as an area sales representative. Tony oversaw the successful growth of GAE/IFS to become one of the leading suppliers in the UK printing industry.

“Tony possessed a dogged, never-give-up approach to business and this, along with his intellect, quick wit, enquiring mind, sense of urgency and ability to see an opportunity, enabled him to quickly become established in GAE in the 1960s as the best salesperson in the company.

“These traits served him well in his journey over the decades with our business, all of which brought much corporate and personal success his way, and when he moved into senior management in the mid-1980s the company went from strength to strength, which eventually led to Tony acquiring the ownership of the company, in partnership with long-term business partner Bryan Godwyn.

“Tony was very much a ‘disrupter’ in the printing machinery market and simply loved the challenge of bringing into the market many new product ranges, new innovations and working to establish a foothold for those brands, often against the fiercest competition from established brands. The most successful of these introductions being Horizon.

“Tony secured the agency for Horizon Print Finishing products in 1981 and established their products as UK market leaders.”

Keane continued: “I first met Tony in 1980 when I joined GAE as a young salesman. Tony was a great mentor, he taught me so much about the business, all of which served me well over the decades in several successful business ventures. Tony was great at spotting talent and so many current and former colleagues enjoyed their time in successful careers working under Tony’s direction.

“During his career with IFS/GAE Tony built up a massive network of relationships with suppliers, manufacturers and customers and became one of the best known ‘characters’ in the commercial print sector and machinery supply side, in particular.

“Tony was an active leading light in Picon [the association said he was a Picon Council member from 2007-2010] and had a long association with the BPIF. Tony was an acclaimed golfer, a former non-league footballer and a passionate follower of Tottenham Hotspur.

“Tony’s life-long contribution to the printing industry was recognised in 2012 when he was awarded the title of Liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers.

“Tony will be missed very much by his family, friends, associates, former colleagues, and everyone that knew him. RIP Tony Hards.”

Plans are being made for an intimate farewell ceremony at a local crematorium, with the date to be confirmed around the end of January, so there will not be a traditional funeral service.

Tributes can be made by way of donations in his memory to the East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals’ Charity at The family said this was in recognition of Lister Hospital for its outstanding care during Hards’ last week.

For more on Hards’ life and story, his Printweek big interview, published in 2016 shortly after he had sold his shares in IFS to Bryan Godwyn, can be read here.