Remembering and Honoring Donald Hastings, Former Chairman and CEO of Lincoln Electric
Donald Hastings, Lincoln Electric’s former chairman and chief executive officer passed away on December 27, 2016. Hastings had an extraordinary 44-year career at Lincoln Electric – rising from trainee to chairman and chief executive officer during his tenure. His passion for the company and the industry left a lasting legacy among those he touched. As Hastings explained in his memoir - the 44 years he spent at Lincoln Electric were especially meaningful to him. “I found my place in the world in 1953 and never looked back. And I don’t regret one minute of the experience," he wrote. "I was involved in a love affair that lasted my entire career and beyond. Thank you, J.F. Lincoln."
Hastings’ Career and Impact Across the Welding Industry is Fondly Remembered by Many
"He will be remembered for his leadership and his devotion to Lincoln Electric during his more than 40-year career," said Christopher Mapes, Lincoln Electric’s Chairman, President and CEO. "We are indebted to Don and have lost a good friend, who will be fondly remembered."
"His strength was in his people skills," said John Stropki, the most recently retired Chairman, President and CEO of Lincoln Electric. "The relationships he built reached into all facets of business – customers, vendors, employees, the people on the shop floor, his supervisors and peers."
David Nangle, President of the Harris Products Group, a Lincoln Electric subsidiary, remembers Hastings as a leader, a mentor, a motivator and a very strong competitor. "The relationships he built at Lincoln Electric and in the industry ran very deep," Nangle said.
Recruited by Lincoln Electric Co-founder J.F. Lincoln
Prior to joining Lincoln Electric, Hastings served in WWII, entering the military at age 17 in the 13th Field Artillery Battalion of the 24th Infantry Division in Japan. After coming home, he completed his education at Pomona College and Harvard Business School, and later accepted J.F. Lincoln’s job offer.
Hastings cut his teeth in his first sales job covering a large territory in Northern California and the San Francisco Bay area. There, with a vast area to cover singularly, he saw the three main distributors in the region as allies. He quickly realized he could never reach a high sales volume on his own, and he needed help. Hastings cultivated strong relationships with these distributors, something unheard of at the time, and as a result, changed the way Lincoln worked with their Distributors moving forward. That early experience shaped his perspective and formed his leadership strategy for Lincoln Electric.
He moved on to make a name for himself serving big name customers like John Deere and Caterpillar, as District Manager of the Moline sales office, before being promoted to General Sales Manager and then Vice President of Sales, which brought him to Cleveland.
A Visionary in a Time of Challenge and Transition
During his tenure, the company transformed from a largely domestic, direct-sales organization to a global, distributor-driven and publicly traded company. Stropki said Hastings led Lincoln Electric through a challenging transition, orchestrated its transformation and positioned Lincoln Electric for long-term success. "There was never a problem too big to solve or an opportunity too far away to pursue," Stropki said.
While Hastings was serving as President and focused primarily on business in North America from 1987 to 1992, Lincoln Electric was going global. The company acquired 19 companies – most of them international manufacturers – between 1986 and 1991, growing annual sales by 87.3% from $445.31 million to $833.89 million.
However, that dramatic growth came at the cost of an increase in long-term debt. When Hastings became Chairman of Lincoln Electric in 1992, he faced a sharp economic downturn in Europe, compounding the struggles of the newly-acquired entities which reported staggering losses.
Hastings navigated the company through a restructuring and strategized ways to export U.S.-made welding machines worldwide. Hastings challenged the U.S. parent company to exceed sales and production goals to compensate for the losses overseas. The heroic effort both on the factory floor and in the field worked. In fact, his "sell your way out of the recession" strategy was so successful that the Ohio company continued to pay employee bonuses, delivered results for stockholders, all without laying off a single employee in the United States. Hastings rallied the company to deliver its strongest results ever – setting quarterly sales records through 1993 and achieving $1 billion in revenue in 1995, the company’s centennial year.
"You just wanted to run through a brick wall for the guy," remembers Dick Seif, retired SVP of Global Marketing at Lincoln. "He had a unique positive attitude that was very motivating. He always believed that Lincoln’s most important assets wore shoes. People were the key to the company’s success, not machinery."
Assembling and mentoring the next generation of leaders
Over the course of his career, he hired many of the current leaders of the company and many more who’ve gone on to make their own mark in the industry. In his memoir detailing his career with Lincoln Electric, Hastings wrote of these leaders he’d hired and mentored: "Over the years, I went on to hire the most unbelievable groups of young men and women I have ever had the pleasure to meet. In the 15 years I led the sales department, they continued to surprise me with their ingenuity, depth of talent and supreme dedication."
Pete Ullman, who worked at Lincoln Electric for 28 years, remembered being unsure about taking the job at Lincoln Electric until he interviewed with Hastings. "When I met him, I knew this was a different kind of guy. It was a transformative interview,” Ullman said. "I wrote him a letter accepting the job that night on the plane ride home." He adds, "He totally put his people first. The most important thing was that he made his people the heroes. He gave his troops the credit."
Nangle remembers working on those sales teams. "Everybody worked their tail off, and the cumulative sum of all of their efforts was extraordinary and surpassed what we could have done as individuals," Nangle said.
Stropki explained that Hastings was responsible for carrying the principles of the Lincoln brothers, J.F and J.C. Lincoln – sharing profits, guaranteed employment, and building relationships – down to the next generation of Lincoln Electric’s leaders.
Seif recalls, "Don showed us that if you care about the people, have fun at your job, and are inspired to win every day – that’s what makes it worth it. He instilled that in everybody, and that was the magic of working with Don."
Mike Mintun, Lincoln Electric’s current Vice President of Sales and Marketing, carries on many of the traditions Hastings started, such as inviting sales trainees over to his house thereby creating a unique sales culture. Hastings’ sales team literally followed him home after work. There, he would continue to "hold court" until his wife Shirley, after feeding the horde, would jovially send them on their way, night after night after night. "I remember how I looked at him as a trainee. He was such a positive individual, and he always made you feel like the most important person in the world," Mintun said.
Dorothy Hodnichak was as an Executive Secretary during Hastings' time as President and later Chairman. "I started at Lincoln right out of high school," she said. "He was nice to everybody, and made a real effort to get to know people," she said. "He took the open-door policy very seriously."
She especially remembered his creative ideas – like the Guaranteed Cost Reduction program, or changing the paint on the welding machines to a bright red, or consenting to a segment on 60 Minutes with an interview by Lesley Stahl. He would bring the employees into the projects, and as a result they were all invested in their success.
Commitment to the Community
Hastings married his wife Shirley Diane Tedder in 1955, and they had three daughters – Leslie, Jane and Nancy. He is survived by his wife and daughters, Jane’s partner Cindy White, and two granddaughters, Allison Hastings-Wottowa and Gillian Egan.
He was involved in numerous professional organizations. These include serving as chairman and CEO of the Cleveland Council of World Affairs; an executive committee member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association; Chairman of the International Trade Alliance; Chairman of the Cleveland World Trade Center. In retirement, he served in a variety of roles in the community, including The Salvation Army, The Hope Lodge Building Campaign in Cleveland, Cleveland Tomorrow, the Harvard Alumni Board, and was President of the Harvard Club of Naples. He Chaired the Harvard Business School Global Alumni Conference in 2001, and served on the boards of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and Lake Erie College.
In the welding industry, he served as chairman of the Board of Governors for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and served on the board of the American Welding Society (AWS) Foundation, which works to educate the next generation of welding professionals. He has two scholarships through the AWS in his name for undergraduates pursuing degrees in welding engineering or related fields, and a scholarship at Pomona College to help low-income high-achieving students attend college. Hastings and his wife Shirley funded the Donald F and Shirley T Hastings Foundation, under the umbrella of the Cleveland Foundation, to support the Arts, education and other charitable endeavors.
Hastings received the American Welding Society (AWS) Counselors Award in 2001 for outstanding service to the welding industry. He was also honored in 1997 and 2009 by the Gases & Welding Distributors Association (formerly the NWSA) and from the Cleveland Engineering Society in 1998.
Honoring Hastings' Service
To honor and commemorate Hasting's commitment to community service, Lincoln Electric has partnered with The Salvation Army of Greater Cleveland, where Don served as a former board member. Upon the opening of Temple Corps Community Center in March of 2017, The Salvation Army will dedicate a portion of the facility as "The Lincoln Electric Homeless Care Facility in honor of Don Hastings". The homeless care facility will not only provide a safe and secure place for the homeless members of the community to shower and clean up, but also bring dignity and respect to Lincoln’s neighbors in crisis.