As Production Manager Jeff Wilson reflects on 40 years with McCullough Creative, plenty has changed. Quality and collaboration have been the constants.
Jeff Wilson recently celebrated his 40th anniversary with McCullough Creative — a four-decade run that has shaped the company's continued growth and success. Creative copywriter Jeff Montgomery recently sat down with the Original Jeff to talk about the good ol' days, the power of change, and what still excites him about coming to work.
First things first, Jeff. Congratulations on four decades with McCullough Creative. That is quite the accomplishment.
Well, thank you. I appreciate that. It’s hard to believe. It all goes by quickly.
So 40 years ago at this time, Ronald Reagan was president. “The Return of the Jedi” was the top-grossing movie. And “Every Breath You Take” by the Police was the number-one song. That’s what was going on in America. What was going on with Jeff Wilson back then? What were you like when you started with McCullough?
I was just finishing up high school at the time. It was a carefree time of life. I had a lot of close friends and we were hanging out every night playing basketball and football. A couple of those friends lived in an apartment above Jack McCullough. So I got to know him and learned that he was starting a new business, which was called McCullough Graphics at the time. He gave me the chance to help out and run some errands for him, and I took him up on the offer.
What was the business like back then?
We were small. When we first moved into the Fischer Building, we had just a few clients. We only had three employees. Around then, we started purchasing some equipment – a stat camera and some typesetting equipment. Over time, we started to grow and hire more people, and we kept renting more and more space.
Why was McCullough the right place for you back then?
Honestly, the main thing I can remember is we had fun. We had fun every day. It was a laid-back environment, just a few guys cranking music and talking sports and having a good time. And I remember that everything I was learning was new. So it kept my brain active and kept me really interested.
Beyond being fun and interesting, was there something about the business that made you think it could be successful?
From the very start, there was this sense that the business would grow into something bigger. Even when we were very small, you could feel that we were growing fast. Jack’s drive was incredible. And he hasn’t lost it. And he always invested back in the company. We were buying equipment to stay up with what was current. He would always be asking ‘What do we need to grow?’ I thought ‘If I can keep up with him, we’re going places.’
What did you bring to the table back then?
I felt my work ethic was top-notch. I was taught that by my mom and dad. Work hard and that is how you achieve growth. Plus, I wasn’t afraid to try new things. I was willing to take on everything and learn everything.
Over the years, as McCullough Graphics became McCullough Creative and continued to grow, what stood out about the company? What kind of reputation did McCullough earn around town?
I think our professionalism is what stood out. We didn’t skimp. We were incredibly detail-oriented. Clients expected quality and perfection, and so did we. The design had to be perfect and we proofread everything. Nothing left the door until everything was perfect, and that was a big thing that set us apart.
What has impressed you about how the company has evolved over the years?
We have grown with the times. If technology changed, we changed our technology. If our clients’ needs changed, we changed to meet them. Back when I started, everything changed fast – and things never slowed down. We’ve had the people to adapt and adjust and not only keep up with changes but stay ahead of them.
Let’s take a step back here. What’s your current title and what you are in charge of?
I am the production manager here, which means I am in charge of the entire production department when it comes to fabrication, scheduling, quoting, billing, and so forth. I am also part of the management team, which is the main decision-making team for McCullough as a whole.
How has the production team changed over your 40 years here?
Oh, it has changed drastically. Such a big part of what we do now is displays and exhibits. When it first started, it was doing paste ups and doing negatives for ads … We’ve come so far and evolved so much to the point where our department now focuses primarily on displays and exhibits. We’ve grown so much when it comes to the fabrication side of things, as well as the graphics side.
How has that evolution been possible? Willingness to try and take on new challenges? What it was compared to what it is …
It’s about the people and the mindset. Our employees are extremely talented, and they have the ability to adapt to what is needed. That’s been a big plus for me. As a team, we’re always willing to look at where we can grow and what will separate us from others. For McCullough, that has come down to our ability to do both the designing and the building of these projects.
Can you talk about your production team? What makes the group unique and effective?
One of the things that is really interesting is everyone on the production team, with the exception of me, has an art degree background. And I think that background comes into play with everything we do. We look at these projects like they are a work of art. As a group, we have that creative eye and can see what we are looking for in the end result. And we all work together to get it across the finish line. If one person is working on it, pretty much everyone is working on it.
I imagine there’s a bit of camaraderie there when you work so closely …
Oh, definitely. There has to be. Everybody respects everybody else and their skill sets. We help each other get through the day – and humor is a big part of it. We have fun along the way.
Something I can sense from you is that time hasn’t eroded that passion of yours. You still love coming into work. What keeps it interesting for you? What keeps it exciting?
I think it’s the fact that it has never become stale. There is still something new to learn every day and a new challenge to take. That’s why it never seems to get dull.
Did 40 years sneak up on you?
Yes. It is crazy. You look at it and say, ‘Holy cow, that is not possible.’
You’ve got to feel a sense of pride too … 40 years in job is a rare feat.
Oh, yeah. It is. But honestly, it doesn’t feel like just one job. We’ve evolved so much and do so much today. It feels like it has been different jobs and different experiences over the years. Within this job, I feel like I actually have had several careers.
We’ve touched on the past quite a bit. What excites you about the future?
I really enjoy training the up-and-coming employees and making sure my skills and knowledge are passed along to the next person. And it has been exciting to see the next generation of leadership. Pat McCullough has brought youth and energy and a new perspective to what we do here. He knows the level of quality and what it takes to keep clients. And he also has a great sense of what we need to do to stay ahead of the trends and push forward. That makes me excited about what comes next.
Think you’ve got another 40 years at McCullough Creative in you?
[laughs and shakes head] I have plenty left in me. Maybe not 40 more, though. What I can say is there’s plenty more to accomplish and plenty more to be excited about.