This ingenuity—along with an entrepreneurial spirit and an unceasing desire to learn—gave Hasenfratz, who died Jan. 8 at age 86 after an undisclosed illness, a rare skill set that would turn him into one of Canada’s self-made billionaires.
“He was a giant among us,” said daughter and Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz at his Jan. 15 funeral. “A family man, a mentor, a leader. He’ll be immeasurably missed.”
‘LOOK FOR THE SUNSHINE’
Born in 1935 in pre-war Hungary, Ferenc (Frank) Hasenfratz spent his teens repairing motorcycles with parts he built himself. Ever the entrepreneur, he loaned the fixed bikes before returning them to their owners.
Hasenfratz was a certified machinist by the time he was conscripted into the Hungarian army in spring 1955. Near the end of his two-year service, Hasenfratz’s military unit joined the freedom fighters in the Hungarian Revolution. When the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, Hasenfratz fled to Austria, and in spring 1957 he departed Europe for Canada.
Frank Stronach, founder of supplier Magna International, had emigrated from Austria to Canada in 1954 to take a parallel path to auto-parts fame. Now 89, Stronach remembers Hasenfratz as a “driven” businessman whose past ensured he didn’t take opportunities for granted.
“Growing up during the war, and shortly after the war, left a deep impression,” Stronach told Automotive News Canada. “Things weren’t always rosy.”
Hasenfratz spent his first few weeks in Canada sleeping on a railway station bench, working odd jobs to earn money. It was tough, but not like his army days.
“I wasn’t upset, I was happy,” he said at a 2012 event for his authorized biography Driven to Succeed. “When bad things happen to you, look for the sunshine.”
A SIXTH SENSE
Hasenfratz had an ear for broken equipment as well as opportunity. Even as Linamar CEO, he could sometimes be found tinkering on a machine on the shop floor.
He sought good ideas from employees.
“Whenever you go into a plant, you learn something or you teach something. If you don’t do either of those, it was a waste of time,” he said in his biography.