Curt Hastings: Building Relationships
In 1981, just three days out of high school, Curt Hastings began working in the bindery and mail departments of Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) because he “just wanted a job.” Nearly 37 years later, Hastings still reports to IFB’s Bloomington, Ill., offices every day for work, though now as manager of Printing Services for the nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to improving the economic well-being of agriculture and enriching the quality of farm family life in Illinois.
After joining IFB, Hastings truly moved up through the ranks. When he heard there was an open position to be the head receiving clerk working on the loading dock, he applied and stayed in that job for about three years. When he learned of an opening for a Multigraphics System 5 press operator, Hastings decided give it a shot.
“I thought, ‘Well, that would be something good to try,’” he recalls.
So he did, and soon mastered both the press and the platemaking process. The jobs in those early days were fairly repetitious.
“All we did was do form, after form, after form it seemed like,” he recalls.
But with the addition of Xerox DocuTechs in the ’90s, that all changed. The team started producing additional items, such as manuals for IFB agents.
Hastings became the first shift DocuTech operator in the three-shift operation. After mastering the DocuTechs, Hastings took a step that would propel him to where he is today. He accepted the role of section leader, which put him in a position to share an office with his boss. A few months later, though, his boss left the company, leaving Hastings to manage the office for a few months until a new manager could be hired.
By the time that manager, Dave Wright, started, Hastings had already learned a lot about management. Over the next nine years, he picked up enough additional management expertise that when Wright announced his retirement seven years ago, Hastings was ready to take over.
“It was a smooth transition,” he says. “He knew he was retiring, and he could mentor me, teach me, and I was hired as manager.”
‘We Thrive on Customer Service’
Over the years, as printed materials, including manuals, transitioned to digital-only files, the in-plant dove into direct mail and variable printing.
One aspect of Printing Services that has changed since Hastings took on the management role is the relationship the department has with the marketing department. He explains that he has worked to develop a strong relationship with marketing, which has resulted in producing direct mail campaigns and promotional items for them.
In fact, building relationships has become a significant characteristic of Hastings’ management style.
“Our goal is to exceed expectations for our customers,” he proclaims. “Once we get your job done, unless it’s a big project, we can usually turn it around within hours and then we personally deliver it to their desk. That’s something that they can’t get from the outside world, that personal delivery; they don’t have to leave their desk, it comes to them. We thrive on customer service.”
Not only is this convenient for those ordering jobs through Printing Services, it adds a personal touch that connects customers to the in-plant on a deeper level.
“They know us and they know our faces,” Hastings explains. “We can talk to them about projects coming up in their area and be involved in that process.”
Hastings explains that Printing Services even held an open house a few years ago to highlight its services, and someone from the marketing art department returned about a month later to tell Hastings that the department would begin sending all its jobs to Printing Services based on what they had learned at the open house. Needless to say, the open house was a success, and Hastings plans on having more of them in the future.
To help other departments better understand Printing Services, Hastings brings all new IFB employees into the shop for a tour every other Monday. He explains that as more printed materials transition to digital versions, “you have to do more marketing than ever before.”
“You have to build these relationships up with different departments and work with paper suppliers and outside printers, as well,” he continues. “You have to have those relationships with them in order to have a successful in-plant.”
Relationship building has also helped address one of the biggest challenges Hastings has faced since becoming manager: awareness.
“It seems like you always have to market yourself,” he says. “There’s always somebody that says ‘I didn’t know you guys existed.’”
Back when he became manager, Hastings joined the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association, and he enjoys networking with fellow in-plant managers at the IPMA’s annual conference.
“It is always nice to know ... you aren’t the only one that has questions, and there is always someone with an answer that isn’t worried you are going to take business from them,” he says.
The Road Ahead
Hastings says he definitely made the right choice when he decided to stick with printing, despite his high school aspirations of becoming a forest ranger or a professional baseball scout. In fact, in the late 1980s, he even went to professional baseball scouting school. But when he realized that job would put him on the road frequently, he made the decision to stick with printing so he could be with his wife and children.
Hastings loves baseball so much that in 2007 he took a group trip to some of the country’s major baseball stadiums — from Chicago and Milwaukee to East Coast venues in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston. In New York, he visited Shea Stadium and the original Yankee stadium, and even toured the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Although Hastings’ career looks quite different than what he envisioned many years ago, he doesn’t have any plans for doing anything else until he is ready for retirement. In five years, he will be close to retirement and that’s when he plans to travel more. Until then, he will be preparing to mentor someone who will step into his role when he is ready to leave.