John Ashe, the new chief executive at Chanhassen-based IWCO Direct, aims to expand its creative services and data analytics to advance the company’s data-driven direct marketing solutions beyond its legacy mass printing and mailing services.

Ashe joined IWCO Direct in May after nearly three decades with sister companies, both manufacturers, under holding company Steel Partners. Ashe most recently was president and chief executive at Lucas-Milhaupt in Milwaukee and previously was senior vice president and general manager of a division of OMG Inc. in his native Massachusetts. At IWCO Direct, Ashe succeeds Jim Andersen, who had joined the company in 1999.

“What we’re seeing is the morphing of the mass print space,” Ashe said. “The companies that can harness the power of data and creativity to develop the most targeted offers and connect them to other channels will come out ahead. Our goal is to be out in front of that pack.”

IWCO Direct is seeking to use its omnichannel marketing platform to drive growth with midlevel companies, particularly regional financial services, fin tech and life insurance companies that don’t have those resources in house, Ashe said.

IWCO Direct had a strong first quarter before volume and revenue decreased across the industry amid COVID-19. But Ashe said he was optimistic about the second half of 2020.

The company has 2,400 employees at its Chanhassen headquarters and locations in Little Falls and Pennsylvania.

“John has the ability to forge client relationships and lead with innovation,” Warren Lichtenstein, executive chairman and interim chief executive of Steel Connect Inc., said in a release. “He is an empathetic leader who has passion and perseverance, and he is the right person to take over the leadership of IWCO Direct.”

Ashe is a graduate of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he played hockey.

Q: What are IWCO Direct’s differentiators?

A: We combine strategy, creative, data and campaign execution all under one roof and that enables cost, performance, speed and market efficiencies that our competitors cannot match.

Q: Who are your competitors?

A: Traditional direct mail/printers that are developing marketing capabilities, like us, who view that as the path forward. And agency competitors that have their roots in traditional direct marketing finding ways to get into mail as well. We see ourselves as well positioned for growth against both types. Some traditional printers have some challenges in integrating marketing services. In general the agency competitors don’t have or offer in-house production and can be overly siloed and fragmented in the services they provide. Most of those companies are owned by one of the huge agency holding companies, which can make it challenging for a client to be supported by a single-source integrated solution like IWCO Direct.

Q: Why did you pursue this opportunity?

A: The company has been a leader in direct marketing services for many years and I’m hoping as a group we can start to define where we go from here.

The people are a passionate and proud group that’s had a lot of success together and it’s got a lot of strong capabilities or competencies in the mass printing space around digital platforms and also in the expansion of their marketing services, which is very important for the future. We’re going to get more into data analytics and that’s going to help us to target clients’ customers.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is