Melanie White, YEN Member Insights, August 2010

Melanie White, SEMA YEN Member of the Month, August 2010

Melanie White on…Carrying on Traditions & Staying Current

Melanie White, 31 years old
Director of Marketing at Hellwig Products

At the age of 25 Melanie White got involved in the family business as a 4th Generation Hellwig. She really grew up around this industry and has found some great ways to plug in. Her involvement in TORA, PRO, ARMO, SBN, and YEN have definitely helped her both personally and professionally grow within the industry. We wanted to get White’s perspective on working for a family business. She also gives us her marketing experience as she carried on her families traditions while having to adapt and expand to new channels in marketing.

What is it like working for a family business and do you have any recommendations for employees working for a family business?

“Honestly working for a family business has it’s ups & downs; it can be so rewarding, but at times there is a lot of pressure involved. It sounds idealistic, but it’s really cool that I have the opportunity to carry on the traditions that my grandfather and great grandfather set when they started the business in 1946. 

The best recommendation made to me and the one I want to pass on to others in family business is: keep business life and family life separate. It’s important that we are a family first and we try not to talk business over Christmas dinner or other holidays.”

What does it take to succeed in a family business?

“The formula to succeed in a family business, I feel is the same as it would for success in any business; focus, hard work, and dedication to your customers.”

With you being the 4th generation what challenges do you face?

“Being the fourth generation I think my biggest challenges have to do with “change”, change in technology, in business practices, in marketing, legal issues, government regulation, etc. Our company has been built on traditions of a making a great product to last a lifetime, and the keyword I feel is “tradition”. Traditions are great as long as they aren’t the only thing we live by as a company. We need to make sure we stay current.”

How do you continue the many traditions set in place by your family?

“Traditions are the foundation for our business, like any good company.  Traditions of a solid product, at a good price, and backed up with great customer service. The idea of continuing those traditions doesn’t feel like a task, it just feels permanent or a “given”.”

How have you had to adjust or adopt new traditions to move forward as technology advances and how has that affected the business?

“There have been quite a bit of technology advancements in the last 60+ years at Hellwig. My grandpa, Don Hellwig always seemed to be ahead of the curve on technology, he actually sold seat belts before seat belts were installed in vehicles by vehicle manufacturers.

Of course technology has affected our business, in many good ways technology has streamlined our manufacturing process, allowed us to develop new and unique products. The challenge comes with keeping up with all of the opportunities to take advantage of. The traditional Marketing Strategy was challenged at Hellwig when I took over the department. Our methodology of outbound marketing was a tradition that was hard to change to also include inbound marketing strategies and social media. It has been a challenge to bring some of the more seasoned veterans into the new era of marketing. After meeting resistance at first, especially about social media, they now seem to trust me or at least give less resistance to these newer forms of marketing.”

What unique situations occur as an employee and a member of the family owned business?

“For years I just wanted to be known as Melanie White, Hellwig employee. I wanted industry people to see me for my own merit and I didn’t want anyone to assume I got the job because of my heritage. After a few uncomfortable situations I decided to abandon the practice. Several times people shared their very strong opinions about family businesses and it was uncomfortable to reveal they were talking about me. And another time when I was trying to be incognito someone asked what my maiden name was because “White” was such a “usual” name. It just wasn’t worth the awkward situations so I learned to prove myself without being incognito.”

Do you feel more pressure, less pressure?

“By far, I feel more pressure to perform in the family business. I feel pressure to both, my family and Hellwig employees. I think daily about the future of the business and dream about it at night. It would be easier to separate myself from the business, and relax more outside of work if it wasn’t in my blood.”

Who has mentored your through your career and what effects did they have on your success?

“Nancy Souza, Hellwig's sales manager, is the one responsible for getting me into this business. She had recruited me for years to get involved in sales and would tell me how boring the other careers I was thinking of. I’m so grateful to her for her persistence, I love what I do and rarely feel bored. Nancy has been an amazing mentor to have in the industry, teaching me a lot about the day to day. She has an amazing work ethic and can multitask like no one I’ve met before.

I also have been honored to have Anne Johnson, Keystone Automotive, as my SBN mentor since 2006. Anne has been so crucial in helping me network and gain a better understanding of SEMA and the industry. She has great brain for business and success. She is one busy woman extending her volunteer efforts into many arenas.”