Fred Whyte, former president of Stihl Inc., passed away on July 7, 2017, surrounded by his family at his home in Virginia Beach, Va., after a battle with an aggressive form of cancer. He was 70 years old.
A native of Vancouver, B.C., Whyte began his Stihl career in 1971, working as a regional manager for Stihl American, the same company where his father had worked. Whyte moved up the ranks at Stihl in the United States, and at the age of 34, led Stihl’s expansion and operations in Canada. In 1992, Whyte returned to the United States as president of Stihl Inc. During Whyte’s tenure as president, he led the company from a moderately known brand to the number one selling brand of gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America.* After serving Stihl for more than 45 years and leading Stihl Inc. for 23 years, Whyte retired, and was named sole director and chairman of the board of directors for Stihl Inc. and influenced Stihl strategy worldwide.
“We, and the larger Stihl family, are very saddened by the news of Fred’s passing,” said Bjoern Fischer, president of Stihl Inc. “He will be remembered for his extraordinary leadership, passion, and personal connections he had with both his customers and his employees.”
In addition to Whyte’s service to Stihl, he was also a well-respected leader of both the outdoor power equipment industry nationwide and the local Hampton Roads community. He served as chairman of the board of directors for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) and president of the Portable Power Equipment Manufacturers Association (PPEMA).
In 2015, the Virginia Manufacturers Association (VMA) recognized Whyte with the Frank Armstrong III Service Award for his contributions to the Virginia manufacturing sector and the association. He was also named honorary member of the Equipment Dealers Association (EDA). In 2016, Whyte was honored by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates with a joint resolution outlining his successful tenure with Stihl Inc.
He was a member of Old Dominion University’s Board of Visitors and served as rector 2013-2014. He also served on the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Children’s Health Foundation board of directors.
During his retirement, Whyte stated, “I often say history is a great business teacher. And after working for more than four decades in this industry, I can confirm that substance wins out over style, every time.”
According to Fischer, “Fred Whyte was a man who had both substance and style, and we are forever thankful for his leadership of our organization.”
Whyte was an avid sports fan, outdoor enthusiast, and like many true Scotsman, played the bagpipes. He is survived by his wife Karen; their two children, Jean and John (wife Stacy); and their twin granddaughters, Klarise and Isla.
*”Number one selling brand” is based on syndicated Irwin Broh Research, as well as independent consumer research of 2009-2016 U.S. sales and market share data for the gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment category combined sales to consumers and commercial landscapers.