Fred Whyte, former president of STIHL Inc., passed away 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 Vancouver, British Columbia native, 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 U.S. 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 from 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.
After learning of Whyte’s passing, the Outdoor Power Equipment (OPEI) issued the following statement:
The industry has lost a true leader and great friend. Fred J. Whyte was one of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s (OPEI) longest serving board members, including acting as chair.
“Fred was a leader in the truest sense of the word, a friend and mentor to me. I routinely sought Fred’s guidance and direction, “said Kris Kiser, President & CEO of OPEI. “He sought solutions and fundamentally understood compromise in the furtherance of consensus. This is a genuine skill and key in operating a successful trade association of competitors. We will miss him.”
“He was tough, smart, intuitive and just plain fun to be around,” said Mr. Kiser. “He had a terrific sense of humor and infectious laugh. He was a solid, decent, caring man.”
He added, “Lucky the TurfMutt and I visited Fred in his Virginia Beach offices at Stihl. We shared a passion and love for our dogs. We would share dog stories and our pictures.”
In Fred’s honor, OPEI will make a donation to the Virginia Beach SPCA, an organization close to his heart.
Rest in peace, our friend.