Getting to know Betts HD.
Bill Betts, Vice President of BettsHD
Briefly describe the history of BettsHD? (This can be a barebones summary; as we know the BettsHD history is quite long.)
Betts Spring Company, as our business was originally known, was founded in 1868 by William Michael Betts, my great great great grandfather. William was decorated by the Queen of England for his mastery in spring making. Excited by new opportunities in America, he sailed to the United States in 1860, eventually settling in San Francisco. He opened his own shop, making springs for carriages, wagons and streetcars. We rebranded our evolving business as Betts Company in 2013. My grandfather William Michael Betts III patented the first mud flap hanger in 1954, in essence launching BettsHD as we know it today – an award winning supplier of quality spray suppression components including mud flap hangers, fenders and related accessories. We have three operating divisions, including BettsHD, our legacy spring manufacturing operation (Betts Spring Manufacturing) and our eight distribution and service centers serving key markets in the Western United States (Betts Truck Parts and Service).
Please describe your company’s manufacturing current structure – What do you build, where do you build it, who are your customers?
We have two manufacturing facilities within BettsHD. Fender manufacturing is conducted in Canfield, Ohio while mud flap hangers are manufactured at our headquarters campus in Fresno, California. We are proud of our Made in the USA heritage. Most of our customers are located in North America, but we do ship internationally. Our customer base spans 14 market channel segments and includes OEM truck builders, OE dealers, and independent national, regional, and local distributors.
What separates BettsHD from competitors in its marketplace? How do you communicate that to customers?
The breadth and depth of our product line differentiates BettsHD from many of our competitors. Our products solve more fleet-specific application requirements than any other single competitive offering, simplifying and optimizing the supply chain for spray suppression components. Our unique product bundle is specified by name by leading North American fleets for both new tractor assembly and maintenance replacement. Our direct sales and support teams work closely with customers, providing an experience founded in the seven Core Values of our family business. We do far more than peddle products – we consult and deliver application focused solutions.
What do customers say about Betts HD?
Customers tell us that they’re impressed by our quality, appreciate our friendly service, value the assurance provided by our longevity in the marketplace and marvel at our ability to sustain a closely-held family business for six generations.
How and why have your customers stayed loyal for 150 years?
Our founders stated their purpose in simple, elegant terms: “Building Well, Serving Better”. Our customers value our commitment to product quality, the dedication of our team to service and our passion to never be satisfied with status quo. Continuous improvement is the responsibility of each and every Betts associate.
What makes BettsHD a great place to work?
While family ownership does not assure a successful or enjoyable work place, we believe 147 years of sustained family ownership has afforded us many opportunities to learn from mistakes and get things right. We believe a family business offers many favorable intangibles to its team members which larger public companies may not have time, interest or bandwidth to nurture and develop. We have a clearly defined statement of purpose (Improving the Way Things Move) which provides overarching foundation to each of our businesses and all of our associates, during and after the workday. We support our purpose by practicing seven Core Values, with our effectiveness measured by five Top Level Metrics. Our corporate culture embraces and promotes our purpose, values and metrics, leaving no doubt as to what Betts is all about. Our people find this clarity very comforting – they know each day where to apply their personal efforts to achieve our collective goals.
What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about BettsHD that would surprise/impress them? (i.e., tell us something about BettsHD we don’t know)
My grandfather invented and patented the first mud flap hanger (the A21) in 1954. This hanger is still a popular choice today and was developed after calling on logging fleets in the Northwest and learning of their challenge in keeping a “newfangled” product, heavy rubber mud flaps, on their tractors. Prior to the invention of the spring steel mud flap hanger developed by my grandfather, fleets usually nailed their mud flaps to wood two x fours mounted to the tractor frame.
What does BettsHD mean to the Betts family?
BettsHD is an important part of our overall business portfolio. Transportation and the commercial vehicle industry are the backbone of our nation’s economy. We are humbled to fill a modest but important role in the safety of our nation’s highways.
What are your goals for the future of BettsHD?
- Controlled, sustained profitable growth for reinvestment in our products, people and processes.
- Further broaden our product and service capabilities
- Continuous improvement of our products, people and processes. It is the foundation of everything we do and believe.
Why did BettsHD join GenNext? How can GenNext help Betts-HD employees?
We joined GenNext because we believe in heavy duty transportation as an industry with rich heritage and significant opportunity. We accept the responsibility of current generation industry leaders to prepare for next generation leadership. Our industry is not always perceived as “sexy” when compared to other industries such as high-tech and risks losing key talent to perceived “greener pastures”. The reality is heavy duty transportation provides a range of opportunities which exceed many other industries. We all need to dedicate energy and effort to assure this bright future is understood and realized. There are several means to approach this challenge and as a business which has successfully navigated generational ownership transfer five times and counting, we believe we have expertise and ideas to offer. We also look forward to developing new and foundational relationships and networks through GenNext which improve our productivity and intellectual capability.
What are the 3 most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?
- My first pivotal moment was working outside of the family business after I graduated from college. I worked for an accounting firm and focused on supply chain management. I had to report to different people, work with different teams, and I got to experience up close different management styles. Through that experience I have selected management styles which seemed best to me, in turn shaping my current leadership model.
- Experiencing the great recession was my first taste of an economic climate which required us to look at things differently. The whole supply chain drastically changed for each one of our businesses. Customers and suppliers we had known and trusted for years went out of business, forever changing our primary supply chains. We had to change; everyone adapted in some way. The experience made us a leaner, more nimble company; adversity in anyone’s life has the opportunity to make them better.
- Growing up in a family business taught me a tremendous amount. Hearing the context of business spoken at family dinners, gatherings, and on an everyday basis created a lens I’m grateful to have.
In business there are many ups and downs, how has BettsHD survived these?
We’ve proven our metal by surviving the Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars and now the Great Recession. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake completely destroyed our business. The spirit of William Michael Betts I, embodies perseverance, breaking through, getting better. These virtues are the backbone of Improving the Way Things Move.
Are there any CEO’s in the industry that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
I have the benefit of being around my father and uncle and their peers. There are so many so quality people it’s inappropriate to mention any one person specifically. I’ve made it a point to learn from our suppliers, distributors, and service providers. My father has emphasized the importance of reaching out and knowing people, forming close ties and relationships, and creating opportunities to share and learn from people from all walks of life.
What do you think the pro’s and con’s are for working for a family owned business?
We have five family members in our senior leadership team, so we have broad collaboration in setting strategies and tactics. We’re privately held so we don’t have the quarterly stock market calls that affect our value. It’s a huge “pro” which allows focus on the long term.
You often hear about the typical cons found in family businesses – but we manage ourselves like a business should – we’re deeply rooted in structure and process. Although we’re family owned, we keep a professional structure which largely separates family dynamics from the business.
How vital is it to BettsHD to have quality employees coming up from younger generations?
Very important! We’re in a period with several generations in the workplace. Much can be learned from our most experienced team members, while the next generation offers fresh, new outlooks and brings diversity. Making a place for the next generation ensures we have varied perspectives which will sustain our companies and our industry. At Betts, we have associates who have worked in our businesses nearly forty years as well as those who joined us just a couple of months ago. There’s a place for everyone because diversity improves our shape.
How do you make BettsHD appealing for the younger generations?
First of all, we create positons of interest to the younger generation. For example, we partner with local universities to offer internship opportunities in several functional areas in our business. We enjoy the energy and passion of students itching to start their career and have come to value their ability to immediately contribute.
Secondly, we have an environment at Betts where our team members know they can and are expected to make a difference. Empowerment and accountability are key attractors to the next generation. We recognize our people for individual and group achievements in a manner which increases career satisfaction.
Do you feel BettsHD is in the position to change with the times? If so how?
You bet! We’ve proven our ability to drive change when positioned to lead and to adapt when change is beyond our control. With each generation, Betts has sought to improve its ability to sustain and flourish because of (and/or in spite of) change.
Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?
Become passionate, life-long learners. Take advantage of all wisdom, experience and perspective the current generation can offer. Develop analysis and decision making skills which support passionate strategy setting. Seek deep diversity on your teams and encourage collaboration throughout your business and supply chains. Seek mentors in and outside our industry so fresh ideas are consistently developed into winning products and services.