Chad Simpson: Leading by Example
You won’t catch Chad Simpson sitting at his desk when there’s work to be done. The Printing Services Supervisor of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBR Schools) likes to be out on the shop floor, working right beside his employees.
“I know how to run every piece of gear in the whole shop,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Simpson sees this as a great motivator for his team — but it’s also a fitting approach for a guy who’s spent his career working with his hands and learning to run a variety of equipment.
“If somebody asked me what my best skill is in life, it’s ‘show me once and I got it,’” he says.
That ability has served Simpson very well. It got him through college without much studying, he contends. He just listened to his instructors and remembered everything. That enabled him to work 40 hours a week in a grocery store through all four years at Southeastern Louisiana University, just down the road from his home back then in Springfield, Louisiana.
He graduated in 1997 with an industrial technology degree and a minor in math, then set his sights even higher.
“My plan was to be an engineer,” he says.
With this in mind, he enrolled in Louisiana State University’s mechanical engineering program. But his plans soon came crumbling down.
“Every semester my car would break down,” he recalls. Unable to get to Baton Rouge, he had to drop all his classes. “I just eventually gave up,” he laments.
Introduction to Printing
Simpson took a job with Xerox Business Systems, which supplied operators to the in-plant at Audubon Insurance. There, he got his introduction to the printing business.
“Soon as I came in I was learning how to run the printers, learning how to work the mainframe,” he says.
After a few years, XBS moved him to one of its other accounts, EBR Schools, where the company managed the copier fleet. Simpson was put in charge of the fleet and handled billing, ordering toner, maintenance, and other tasks.
“If someone had a problem with one of the walk-up copiers, I would go out and resolve the problem,” he says. “I learned how to fix and troubleshoot a lot of things.”
In his free time — and there was a lot of it — he worked in the school system’s in-plant or in its satellite copier center.
In 2006, the in-plant manager retired, and Simpson applied for the position. He was already well known around the school system and got the job, starting in January of 2007.
The in-plant at the time had five employees, a pair of Xerox DocuTechs, a DocuColor 12, and three offset duplicators. Simpson’s first move was to add a two-color Heidelberg Quickmaster in 2007 to print brochures, booklets, letterhead, and envelopes. He learned to run the press himself.
“I probably ran that until … 2015,” he says. “At that point, everything switched over to digital. The color digital [equipment] got fast enough.”
Transitioning to Digital
The in-plant transitioned from Xerox to Océ printing equipment, and in 2016 it added an HP Indigo digital press.
By then the shop had moved into a new facility, a change that came about after Simpson got wind that a school program would be relocating and vacating its space. He asked to move the in-plant from its cramped quarters and got the green light. The new space was about 9,000 sq. ft. and included a loading dock.
“That gave us the ability to really go after the wide-format,” he says.
The in-plant added a CET Color 250 hybrid flatbed printer and a Kongsberg XN automated flatbed cutter and started printing on acrylic and aluminum composite.
“It took out the labor of having to print on vinyl and mount,” he notes.
With the flatbed cutter the shop started cutting stickers and wall graphics. Simpson later added an HP Latex printer.
“When COVID hit, we did a lot of social distancing signage,” he says.
The pandemic also underscored the in-plant’s value in other ways. The shop had been printing some school curriculum materials on the Indigo, and when COVID supply chain issues hit, “the only people that delivered their books on time was the print shop,” Simpson says.
This success led to discussions about having the in-plant print school curriculum materials for all 90 schools, sending Simpson on a quest to find a print technology that could handle this much volume. Though the in-plant installed a Canon imagePRESS V1000 color production digital press last summer, Simpson knew the shop would need even more firepower to produce high volumes of curriculum work. The project is still in the planning stages.
Looking back at his career in the printing industry, Simpson feels he made a good choice.
“I would do it again,” he says.
He’s most proud that his in-plant has been able to survive all these years under his direction.
“I’ve been here 17 years. There’s never been talk about eliminating the print shop,” he says. “Everyone in the district seems to be happy with what we’re doing.”
Outside of work, Simpson and his wife Nickie stay busy watching their son and daughter’s high school sporting events. They are all looking forward to a cruise to Belize and Cozumel with their extended family.
Related story: Automated Contour Cutting in the In-plant
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.