Frank Hasenfratz, a Hungarian immigrant who built Linamar Corp. to a company with spare parts for $ 5 billion from a startup in his garage, died Saturday at the age of 86.
Mr. Hasenfratz, who was CEO of the company at the time of his death, was surrounded by his family, the company said in a statement. The cause of death was cancer, the statement said.
“It was his vision and tireless drive that enabled us to build the company that Linamar is today,” said his daughter, Linda Hasenfratz, who has served as the company’s CEO since replacing her father in 2002.
“He leaves a huge legacy on the Canadian business landscape, changing the lives of so many and providing careers, livelihoods and opportunities for thousands of people. He inspired and taught so many, myself profoundly, and his spirit will live on in each of us, while we continue to build the legacy of Linamar. “
The company said its board has a succession and renewal plan in place for the executive chair “which will be implemented in the coming weeks.”
As a young man in Hungary, Mr. Hasenfratz trained as a technical officer in the army when the Soviets roared in and crushed the country’s uprising in 1956. Realizing that it was wise to leave the country, he fled to Austria and then continued to Italy, where he worked as a translator in refugee camps. He moved on to Le Havre, the French port. There he met some sailors who told him he could get passage to North America if he was willing to work on their cargo ship. Mr. Hasenfratz signed.
The cargo ship docked in Quebec City, where an immigration officer went on board and asked Mr. Hasenfratz to identify himself. “I told him I was a Hungarian refugee,” Mr Hasenfratz told The Globe and Mail in a 2005 interview. “It took him five or 10 minutes and he gave me immigration status, including $ 5 to spend. I filled out the paper, he said: “Sign here,” and “Welcome to the country.”
Mr. Hasenfratz ended up working on a farm near Guelph, Ont. His employer drove him into town every day so he could apply for a job in his real industry, tool-and-matrix. Within weeks, he landed a job at a company that manufactured components for the Avro Arrow project, the attempt to build a Canadian interceptor jet that was notoriously canceled by the Diefenbaker government.
Soon, Mr. Hasenfratz was working in the machine shop of a company whose products included fuel pumps for Ford Motor Co. Nearly a quarter of the pumps were defective, which frustrated Mr. Hasenfratz so much that he left the company and got the contract to supply the pumps himself. It was a brave move for a young breadwinner with two young children. But the auto deal came into effect, and he began getting more contracts out of Detroit. His auto reserve business took off.
Linamar, formally founded in 1966, took its name from Mr. Hasenfratz’s daughters Linda and Nancy and wife Margaret. It was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1986 and began a global expansion in the 1990s. A number of acquisitions expanded its geographic reach and the number of product lines.
Today, Linamar has 26,000 employees in 60 production sites, 12 research and development centers and 25 sales offices in 17 countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia. In addition to a wide range of car parts and components, Linamar also makes lifts for the lift industry and agricultural harvesting equipment. Over the past 12 months, it has recorded $ 6.7 billion in sales and nearly $ 500 million in profits. At the close of trading on Friday, investors estimated the company at just over $ 5.1 billion.
Mr. Hasenfratz served as chairman of the company’s board of directors for 55 years.
Mr. Hasenfratz belonged to a generation of immigrant engineers and artisans who filled Canada’s skills gap in the 1950s and 1960s and stayed to build large manufacturing companies.
The list includes Klaus Woerner of ATS Automation Tooling Systems, a manufacturer of manufacturing equipment; Val O’Donovan of Com Dev International, a supplier of satellite components; Robert Schad, from plastics technology manufacturer Husky Injection Molding Systems; and Vic De Zen, of Royal Group Technologies, a leader in plastic building materials.
It also includes Frank Stronach, founder of car parts giant Magna International. Mr. Hasenfratz and Mr. Stronach came to Canada within three years in a row, building large spare parts companies, and each had a daughter after him at the top of the company. (Belinda Stronach later left Magna to enter politics.)
In his 2005 interview with The Globe, Mr Hasenfratz recalled a conversation with Mr Stronach years ago in which the Magna boss remarked that they both had roots in the same place. “Yes, the Hungarian-Austrian Empire,” joked Mr. Hasenfratz. Mr. Stronach shot back: “No, no, that’s wrong – that’s the Austro-Hungarian Empire.”
Mr. Hasenfratz was honored as the Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year, inducted into the Canadian Manufacturing Hall of Fame and the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and was named Order of Canada.
He donated to several philanthropic causes in Guelph and the surrounding southwestern Ontario, including Guelph General Hospital, University of Western Ontario, St. Joseph’s Foundation and the local performing arts.
Mr. Hasenfratz was deceased by his wife Margaret Hasenfratz. He leaves behind daughter Linda and son-in-law Ed and their four children, as well as daughter Nancy and son-in-law Mark.
In his statement, Linamar said “we will continue to live by Frank’s words of striving to continually improve, act quickly and decisively, set goals and track progress and always” do what we do best, better. “
With a report from Gordon Pitts
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