Hellwig Suspension Products in Visalia recently was certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. With President and CEO Melanie White at the helm, it is at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a woman. Photo by Frank Lopez.
Written by Edward Smith
Here in the Valley, it’s not uncommon to see women in executive roles in industries that for decades were predominantly run by men. Construction, transportation, ag and manufacturing come to mind.
For Melanie White, president and CEO of Hellwig Suspension Products in Visalia, dedication to family and doubling down as a woman-owned business has made Hellwig stand out.
Hellwig recently received certification from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, meaning the manufacturer of vehicle sway bars and helper springs is at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women.
Founded by her great grandfather Rudy Hellwig and his son Don in 1946, Hellwig’s third generation is represented by CFO Mark Hellwig, with his daughter White the fourth generation in the family business.
The current facility, which Hellwig has been operating out of since 1967, covers 57,000 square feet and employs about 60 people.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in material and resource shortages, inflation and labor scarcity, Hellwig Suspension is seeing higher demand for its products.
While White has been instrumental in the company’s growth in recent years, she didn’t always plan go into the family business. She earned a degree in psychology and wanted to go into sales.
Around 2005, she took a sales opportunity at Hellwig, making cold calls, establishing relationships with clients and learning the company’s products.
“When I look back, it was really foundational in how I approach business now,” White said. “There are all these things that really matter [in sales] that I was able to incorporate into business, and I find I rely on that now.”
White worked her way up to sales director, then marketing director and vice president, becoming president and CEO in 2018.
Hellwig does business across the U.S. as well as some international. It is an Original Equipment Manufacturer for parts for UPS and FedEx trucks, and for specialty truck and military vehicle manufacturer Oshkosh Corporation.
Demand for Hellwig products did not immediately take off at the start of the pandemic. It was an apprehensive time for them, but the team never ceased operations during the pandemic as clients needed their parts.
The company is no stranger to supply-chain woes. Prior to the pandemic, orders could be fulfilled in less than six weeks. Those same orders are now taking 16 weeks to be delivered.
Having to plan that far in advanced means guesswork, and those guesses aren’t always correct, White said.
Becoming a certified Woman-Owned Business has opened more opportunities that will encourage more companies to do business with Hellwig.
Besides being a woman in manufacturing, she is also a woman in the automotive industry, which White said is not known for employing many women. Coming from a sales perspective, it has worked to her advantage.
“They might not have remembered my name, but they’d remember meeting me,” White said. “I’d get ‘who’s that girl from Hellwig’ or ‘I remember meeting that lady from Hellwig’ or call looking for a lady, and it would be easy to get a hold of me.”
White has had experiences where men direct their questions at her male colleagues instead of her. But she is inspired by the path women have blazed in the industry.
“None of us can do this alone, and I remind everyone that we are a team, we all have our part to play and need each other,” White said. “That’s the part I really like about my job.”
Read more about Hellwig’s origins here.