Melanie (Hellwig) White becomes first female president of Hellwig Suspension Products, fourth generation management for family-owned company
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
VISALIA – The family-owned manufacturing behemoth, Hellwig Suspension Products, is now ushering in a fourth generation Hellwig into the highest level of management. And this time, it is the first ever woman in the company leading the way.
Just about a month ago Melanie Hellwig-White donned the title president of Hellwig Suspension Products, a promotion from her previous position of vice president. She is the first woman to be president of the company, but if you ask her, the job is what it is regardless of gender.
“The job is the same, yeah. I feel pretty lucky. I’m the fourth generation…and I get to continue the business and see the legacy continue,” White said.
When she was vice president, White implemented an effective marketing strategy for the company and helped solidify its brand identity. White forged new paths for the company by actively volunteering time with the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade organization and participating in their businesswomen’s network and light truck accessory alliance. But according to White, a great amount of her early sales experience gave her the chops to set herself apart in the family-owned business.
“I hated [making cold calls], but it set me up for success. It gave me the perseverance you need…and I learned to have thick skin because not everyone is so nice on the phone,” White laughed.
Although, through cold calls, and then outside sales, White figured out how to work with customers to get them what they wanted.
Clearly her low woman on the totem pole routine ran its course as she rose through the ranks, but up until 13 years ago there was no guarantee she would work for the family business. At Chico State, her father’s alma mater, she studied psychology and had a minor in business. When she decided to commit herself to the business she leaned in full force. So much so that she was chomping at the bit for the president job.
White said that she had been talking with her dad about the promotion for some time. She’s proud her family has expressed their confidence in her to run a company of 53 employees, shipping hundreds of thousands of pounds of vehicle suspension products all over the world. And her job now is no small feat. In addition to implementing strategic marketing techniques, White is working on the company’s finances, speaking directly with large scale customers and diving in deep on research and development.
White’s post is one that weighs heavy on her mind considering the company has been built from her great-grandfather and grandfather’s hard work since 1940’s. And it all started when father and son, Rudy and Don Hellwig used to walk through neighborhoods looking at passenger cars offering to fix the vehicles’ sagging rear end and install it in the customer’s driveway for $7.00.
“My great-grandfather, my grandfather and father are incredibly hard workers who have all put in their blood, sweat and tears into this business,” White expressed.
Since the early days of drive way installations Hellwig has grown to become an industry leading manufacturer of suspension products ranging from street performance and off-roading to auto-cross racing, cars and trucks, RVs and even military vehicles. Their shop, located off of 198, was purchased in 1960 after the company moved from their first location in Glendale. With the help of more than 50 employees, they do nearly everything in-house from welding, fabrication, engineering and maintenance. White credits much of Hellwig’s success to their dedicated employees. When the company moved to Visalia, eight out of their nine employees followed.
The Hellwig business was established in the early 1940s from an idea for the Hellwig Helper Spring that Rudy invented after noticing cars and trucks rear-ends sagging because of heavy loads and weight. Rudy manufactured his Helper Springs at night in his shop while he worked full-time during the day. In the 1970s, the company began manufacturing sway bars which now accounts for a huge part of sales and has allowed the company to build a private label and an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) division.
Outside of the many qualities Hellwig possesses, their technique of hot forming is really what has separated their products from other manufacturers. Hot forming is a process used for a product such as the sway bars. An oven is heated until it reaches red hot temperatures beyond 1,000 degrees, and then the bar is formed hot until another process of oil quenching is used. After the bar cools, it is heated for a second time and then cooled to create the final product. This process allows for the bars to be stronger and durable while giving the bars the reputation of being some of the best in the market.
Sway bars and springs have become some of the company’s top sellers. In 2006, “The Big Wig,” was introduced into the towing and hauling product line and is one of the largest air bags on the market. “The Big Wig” allows drivers to run lower air pressure for smoother rides. Some of their biggest customers are Freight Liner, UPS, FedEx, Summit Racing and Oshkosh Defense.
Hellwig Products are made in the United States and come with a Lifetime Warranty on all steel parts. They are shipped all over the world including Australia and United Arab Emirates. Hellwig Products continue to strive for growth and excellence in their precision engineered products and is constantly striving to improve their products to develop the best performance parts in the industry.
“I’m excited to continue to grow and expand the company,” smiles White.