By Steve Noe
No one took the responsibility of participating in our annual “Industry Forecasts” survey more seriously than Fred Whyte of Stihl Inc. In fact, he took it so seriously that he would often contact me before I even had a chance to extend what was a standing invite to him. And occasionally, he would contact me before I even had a chance to finalize my questions, and would kindly pass along a few suggestions of his own. He wanted to get his hands on those questions as soon as possible, because he wanted to allow plenty of time to put a lot of thought and effort into providing excellent responses — and he never disappointed.
So, with Whyte retiring from the Stihl organization last month after an amazing 44-year run — and with his “Industry Forecasts” responses normally running in the January issue — I thought it was only appropriate to devote this space to a man who devoted so much of himself to this industry.
Whyte began his career with Stihl in 1971, working as a regional manager for Stihl American, the same company where his father had worked for nearly two decades. He became product manager for Stihl Inc. in 1975 and was promoted to national sales manager just four years later.
At age 34, Whyte became president of Stihl Limited, where he founded the Canadian operation in 1982 and served in that role until he became president of Stihl Inc. During his 10 years at Stihl Ltd., the Canadian company achieved increases in sales each year. Whyte’s tradition of achievement continued during his 23-year tenure as president at Stihl Inc., as the Virginia Beach, Va.-based company enjoyed 22 years of record sales and extraordinary market growth. Also, under Whyte’s leadership, Stihl achieved the status as the number-one-selling brand of gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America. A native of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Whyte also served as chairman of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) and president of the Portable Power Equipment Manufacturers Association (PPEMA).
When introducing Whyte during Stihl’s Dealer Day press conference at GIE+EXPO 2015, Steve Meriam, director of sales, said, “Fred has been tireless in his support of our industry, but also of the servicing dealer — many of you are here tonight. I don’t know if over the last 44 years of Fred’s career that he’s called on every Stihl dealer in the U.S. and Canada, but I can tell you that it’s pretty darn close. He’s been on the road a lot.”
Among his many honors and achievements, Whyte was named a 2010 “Most Influential People in the Green Industry” selection by Green Media — publisher of OPE, Landscape and Irrigation, SportsTurf and Arbor Age magazines.
In recent months, the Virginia Manufacturers Association (VMA) recognized Whyte by presenting him with the Frank Armstrong III Service Award for his contributions to the Virginia manufacturing sector and the association while working for Stihl Inc. Specifically, Whyte’s leadership was instrumental in Virginia Beach becoming the first locality in the Commonwealth to eliminate the machinery and tools tax. Whyte was also an industry leader in the area of robotics and automation technology. In addition, he provided an “incubator/laboratory,” where the Dream It Do It Virginia Summer Camp was invented and continues to serve parents, teachers and students statewide.
At GIE+EXPO 2015, Whyte was named the first honorary member of the newly branded Equipment Dealers Association (EDA), formerly known as the North American Equipment Dealers Association. Joe Dykes, EDA vice president of industry relations and staff contact to the association’s OPE Dealer Council, presented a plaque to Whyte during a short ceremony at the end of Stihl’s Dealer Day press conference.
“We are extremely pleased to have this opportunity to honor Fred for his outstanding contributions to the industry,” Dykes said. “This recognition is extremely well deserved as he has been a staunch supporter of the association and our members for many years. He will be missed, and we wish him well as he approaches retirement.”
Count me among those who will miss him — especially when it comes to hearing from him regarding our “Industry Forecasts.” I wish him a happy and healthy retirement.