Hulley hails the printing press as he steps down at Clays

Jo Francis
Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Clays CEO Paul Hulley has retired after 12 years running the UK’s biggest single site book printer.

Hulley: "There is a thrill in print, a thrill that I had never experienced in my career until I found Clays"
Hulley: "There is a thrill in print, a thrill that I had never experienced in my career until I found Clays"

He stepped down earlier this month as part of the succession plan announced last year. 

Hulley said that after working for many years in retail, he had been “very lucky that my world collided with the Clays world back in late 2009”.

He told Printweek: “I never had any intention to embark on a career in print; I’d been a retail logistician for 20 years and spent some time selling software. Then, all of a sudden, I find myself in deepest darkest Suffolk (along with my extraordinarily tolerant family), in a world full of plates, signatures, ink and glue; making the product I have always most consistently enjoyed and valued.”

He also spoke about the buzz of working in print, and said: “There is a thrill in print, a thrill that I had never experienced in my career until I found Clays and a thrill that I have enjoyed every day since – perhaps other than the, thankfully rare, days something went properly wrong and, getting home exhausted, I’d put the BBC evening news on to hear the nation being regaled with the jolly story of some hapless printer combining one A list celebrity’s autobiography with another fictional celebrity’s diary…”

Hulley steered the business through the pandemic and actually did appear on BBC News in March 2020, defending the firm’s decision to stay open, with appropriate safety measures, and explaining that the government “has not shut down UK industry”.

He pointed out that it was fundamentally important to preserve workers’ livelihoods despite the turmoil caused by Covid-19. 

Clays was acquired by Italian group Elcograf four years ago. The firm had sales of just over £74m in 2020, and employed more than 800 staff. 

Edoardo Cuomo has now taken over from Hulley as CEO, per the succession plans. 

Recalling his original decision to take up a printing industry role, Hulley added: “Of course, 12 and a bit years ago people told me I was bonkers – there wouldn’t be any more books. E-readers were becoming all the rage and Apple were about to launch the iPad; so I’d carted my family off to Suffolk for a lost cause (Suffolk turned out to be wonderful by the way). 

“Well, I didn’t believe it and now nobody believes it. People find themselves in a book, or even lose themselves in a book, and so the object itself has an emotional value and attachment beyond the printed words it contains. That’s why Clays prints more books now than it did when I joined and technological advance has meant that more titles are in print now than ever they were – so all hail the printing press and all hail the people who staff book factories in the UK and across the world! And thank you Clays, it has been a happy time.”

Hulley remains a non-executive director and advisor to Clays, and has also taken on some trusteeships in the world of education.

Over the summer Clays is set to install a highly-specified Manroland Goss Web Systems Lithoman IV press that will be capable of producing 50m books a year. The press is the Bungay firm’s biggest investment to date. 

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