Fred Whyte has reason to celebrate as he looks back at a 40-year success story that is the history of STIHL Incorporated. The company’s president has been selling STIHL tools for 43 years. He began his career in 1971 at the independent import company known as STIHL American. He was hired in 1973 by STIHL Inc. after that subsidiary was founded in the U.S. Whyte then played a significant role in establishing STIHL Canada before taking over executive management at STIHL Inc. Today, we take a look back with him at four decades of STIHL history in America.
The 1970s − The early years
On 13 August 1974, the manufacturing and sales company STIHL Inc. was founded in Virginia Beach. By the end of that year, it had already assembled 10,000 chainsaws (MS 015).
Unlike in Europe, discerning private users in North America showed a great interest in high-quality tools as early as the 1970s. STIHL worked to meet demand and soon was supplying the massive North American market with locally manufactured chainsaws that satisfied customers’ needs.
Fred Whyte has his father to thank for a career at STIHL. In 1971, Whyte’s father, also a STIHL veteran of 20 years, encouraged him to apply for a position at the importer STIHL American. Whyte became regional manager and was responsible for sales in 13 states across America.
Whyte on his own personal career path, going from STIHL American to STIHL Incorporated “Five years later, I received an early morning call from Waiblingen – at 4:30 in the morning! It was Rainer Glöckle. He requested that I travel to Virginia Beach as quickly as possible for a meeting. At the time, the U.S. dollar to deutschmark ratio made it impossible to import everything from Waiblingen. So STIHL had set up the little 015 assembly line in Virginia Beach in 1974. They had also taken over the importer STIHL American completely. I was appointed product manager for saw chains, guide bars and accessories. Two years later, I became the national sales manager.”
In 1977, STIHL Inc. laid the foundation for manufacturing plant I and the administrative offices. The Crankshaft, Heat Treating and Polymer departments were added in 1980.
In 1981, Fred Whyte became president of STIHL Limited, the recently founded Canadian subsidiary. He started without a desk, a chair, a building or employees. He talked to banks, lawyers and importers to set up the company and its new structures. It was an instructive period for Canadian-born Whyte.
In the meantime, a number of things happened at STIHL Inc. In 1985, STIHL Inc. launched the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® series on ABC/ESPN, and in 1986, the one-millionth 1120 series chainsaw powerhead (model 011 AV) was produced in Virginia Beach. The majority of the management had to be dismissed in 1991. It was during this difficult period that Whyte returned to Virginia Beach and became president of STIHL Inc.
According to Whyte, “some very difficult decisions had to be made. But at the same time, there was an abundance of opportunities. For the first three months, I did a lot of listening, especially to our customers. Internally, it was critical to communicate and demonstrate that I would manage by input but not necessarily by consensus. I knew the expectations of the Stihl family and realized the most effective way to function was to keep our eyes on the goalposts and not dither over unimportant distractions. We had to be in it for the long term.”
Development since 1992
A series of events unfolded one after another in the 1990s that, in retrospect, paved the way to a true success story.
- In 1993, production of the 029, 039 and 009 STIHL MiniBoss™ chainsaws, in addition to the HS 72, 74 and 76 hedge trimmers and the FC 72 edger started in the US.
- In 2002, US production of the 4180 (4-MIX™) series engine began.
- In 2005, STIHL Inc. completed construction on a new 228,000-square-foot expansion to its Virginia Beach operations that cost $60.8 million.
- In 2006, STIHL broke ground on a new 60,000-square-foot guide bar facility in Virginia Beach, VA that cost $20 million.
- In 2007, Hans Peter Stihl dedicated the guide bar production plant.
- In 2009, STIHL Inc. produced the majority of all STIHL powerheads worldwide.
- STIHL then went on to become the top-selling brand of gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America*.
Fred Whyte, who has been president of STIHL Inc. for nearly 23 years now, remarked on the company’s development since 1992:
“Being the largest single market for STIHL products, our U.S. manufacturing is closely aligned to the corporate “close-to-market” strategy. We take the pulse of the market. As such, we have experienced several expansions over the past two decades, including expansion of the workforce, our facilities and the dealer network as well. In December 1991, we had 460 employees. Today, we number well over 2,100 nationwide. We have expanded injection molding and accessories manufacturing as well as our warehouse space. And in 2007, we began production of guide bars in a totally separate factory. Another significant change was the establishment of six company-owned branch operations which transpired when we acquired existing distributor territories in the U.S. That has been one of the real successes of the company: The development of the branch, distributor and dealer network. They have developed into smart, confident business people.”
STIHL Incorporated is flourishing, and Fred Whyte explained to us why:
“Contrary to the popular concept of outsourcing with other industries, we believe in “insourcing”. We are vertically integrated and produce most of our major components such as polymer parts, crankshafts, piston, etc., which allows us more internal control over cost, supply, delivery and, most importantly, quality. Our high level of automation allows us to be cost competitive while meeting the STIHL Group’s uncompromising global quality standards. We have more than four times as many robots as the average U.S. manufacturing company. And we’re proud to say that we’ve never put a regular, full-time employee out of a job due to automation.”
The timeline on the stihlusa.com website is perfect for those who are now interested in an overview of STIHL Incorporated’s history after having had this personal look at the company: www.stihlusa.com/information/celebrating-40-years-timeline/
*A majority of STIHL powerheads are built in the United States from domestic and foreign parts and components. “Number one selling brand” is based on syndicated Irwin Broh Research as well as independent consumer research of 2009-2013 U.S. sales and market share data for the gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment category combined sales to consumers and commercial landscapers. © 2014 STIHL