Frank Hasenfratz 1935-2022
The first thing you should understand about the late Frank Hasenfratz was his sense of humour. When you called him, he would say, “Hello,” and then immediately add, “I’m just sitting here counting my money.” The second thing was his no-nonsense approach to life. His second daughter Linda graduated from the University of Western Ontario then worked briefly as a pharmaceutical rep before deciding in 1990 to join the family business, Linamar Corp. Her father welcomed her but then said, “There’s only one job you start at the top and that’s when you’re digging a hole. And guess where you end up? In the hole. So you’ll start at the bottom and work your way up.” And so Linda began by running a lathe on the plant floor, machining parts, finally becoming chief executive officer in 2002.
Frank, who died recently at eighty-six, was born in Hungary, where he became a tool and die maker, and was in the army when his countrymen mounted an armed rebellion in 1956 against Soviet occupation. His unit sided with the rebels until the Soviets sent in the tanks to quell the uprising. He fled the country along with 200,000 others, of whom 37,000 came to Canada. When he landed in Quebec City, the immigration officer welcomed him and gave him $5. Frank worked odd jobs locally, slept in the train station, and lived on bread and milk that cost him $1.17 a day, before joining family in Ariss, Ontario, north of Guelph.
My opportunity to meet Frank came through Susan Papp, a former CBC story producer who started her own documentary company. Among her many productions was “The Young Rebels” featuring Frank and other Fifty-Sixers who’d come to Canada, including publisher Anna Porter and author George Jonas. Frank approached Susan to help with his memoirs and she in turn asked me to write the business aspects of the book that would become “Driven to Succeed,” published in 2012.
We spent about thirty hours interviewing Frank, learning how he worked briefly for other firms but became frustrated by the poor quality they produced. He knew he could do better so in 1964 began making fuel pumps for Ford on a lathe in the basement of the family home. Within a few weeks he had four employees and by 1985, Linamar had 500 employees working in five Guelph plants. Today, there are 26,000 employees in seventeen countries. Like all owners, net worth rises and falls with share prices, but at one point a few years ago he was a billionaire. Not bad for a guy who started with five bucks.