Hasenfratz: Reach for higher mountains

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Today’s graduates are fortunate to live in Canada where opportunity is endless, where they can, and must, reach for higher mountains every day, said Frank Hasenfratz, chairman and founder of the Board of Linamar, a multi-billion-dollar global manufacturing company that started as a one-man shop in his basement in 1964.

“Canada is one of the greatest countries. They accept you, what you are and how you are. If you work hard, you can achieve anything in this country. Too many of us, once we live here too long, forget about it. We have opportunities like nowhere else in the world,” he noted, adding it is important to assess every opportunity.

“In life, you have to measure things and accept the changes. Anything you don’t measure, doesn’t get done or done on time. At all times, you should have a goal. If you don’t have a goal, you won’t get there. You cannot be a marathon runner if you don’t know where the finish line is.”

Hasenfratz spoke to graduates from the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the Faculty of Health Sciences and Ivey Business School at the Friday, October 28 morning session of Western’s 308th Convocation. Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Hasenfratz in recognition of his philanthropy and leadership in the manufacturing industry.

Born in Hungary in 1935, Hasenfratz attended trade and engineering technical schools while working as a toolmaker and machinist. He immigrated to Canada in 1957, fleeing to avoid arrest after taking part in the anti-communist uprising that was eventually crushed by the invading Soviet Red Army.

As a teenager in post-war Budapest, Hasenfratz earned money by repairing motorcycles with parts he made himself and then renting the bikes out before his customers returned to pick them up. In Canada, he started his own company in 1964 when he installed a $1,000 lathe in the basement of his home near Guelph. To limit operating costs and avoid taking on debt, he modified his kitchen oven so he could use it to heat metal to make copper aircraft parts. His company earned $20,000 profit in its first year of operation, and then Hasenfratz landed his first big break when Ford Canada awarded him a contract to manufacture oil pumps.

Hasenfratz was a supervisor at Sinterings Ltd. until the formation of Linamar in 1966. Today, still based in Guelph, Ont., Linamar operates 57 manufacturing facilities around the world. It employs 23,000 people who build precision metal products for a wide range of power-system applications, and Linamar’s “Skyjack” brand is a global leader of aerial work platforms. Publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange since 1986, Linamar achieved sales of $5.2 billion (Canadian) in 2015 — up from record sales of $4.2 billion in 2014, and $3.6 billion in the year prior.

A member of the Order of Canada, Hasenfratz was recognized for his philanthropy and leadership in the manufacturing industry.

In his citation, Western President Amit Chakma said Hasenfratz’s story is one of the most remarkable ones in modern Canadian business.

“Frank’s appreciation for the life Canada has enabled him to create for himself and his family — and his strong belief in the transformative power of education — have manifested themselves through a multitude of generous contributions back to the community. Hospitals, museums, universities, colleges and technical institutes, community service organizations, and health research agencies across Ontario make up the long list of charities that have benefited from his family’s and Linamar’s corporate philanthropy,” Chakma noted.

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Hasenfratz added graduates must keep reaching for higher goals at all times.

“If you’re reaching for the top of the mountain, as you climb up, as you get close to the top, look for another one – a hill that’s a little higher because once you get to the top of the mountain, and you have no higher hill to climb, there’s only one way to go, and that’s downhill. Once you start going downhill, it goes faster and faster.”

Also during the ceremony, the Angela Armitt Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty was awarded to Health Sciences Professor Heather Gillis.