By Alma Kadragic
As Co-President of HEICO – the world’s largest designer and maker of commercial aircraft replacement parts - Victor Mendelson likes to remind businesspeople here that Miami is “a town of small and smaller businesses” where entrepreneurs know how to “bounce back.” He cites his own company as an example of how creative reinvention can save a company and keep it growing.
In the closing address at Mapping Miami’s Financial Future, a signature event organized recently by the Miami Finance Forum, Mendelson described how HEICO changed direction repeatedly from its founding in 1957 as Heinicke Instruments, designing and selling lab equipment.
A merger in 1974 brought Heinicke into the aviation market, but the company also dabbled in other directions including a car wash system and medical diagnostics. The car wash turned out to destroy automotive paint. The medical technology was sold. By 1986 when the name was changed to HEICO Corporation, the company was in decline.
However, around that time the Mendelson family became involved when Victor’s father bought into HEICO. Eventually, he was able to take over the company and place his sons, Victor and Eric, in top management. Although no one had a background in aviation, that industry became the focus, and Victor himself invested $100,000 in HEICO in 1990, believing in its future success.
Along the way, HEICO got permission from the FAA to make generic parts for aircraft. That led to a lawsuit from United Technologies, which HEICO fought, believing in the family and being optimistic. HEICO won the case, and today produces more than 10,000 aircraft parts.
With 4800 employees and 60 facilities in 20 states and 11 other countries, HEICO todayis a diversified aerospace, defense and electronics manufacturing and services company. It’s been named one of the “World’s Most Innovative Growth Companies” by Forbes.
Mendelson’s lessons for startups and entrepreneurs at any stage:
1. Serve your customers – no room for failure
2. Treat team members fairly
3. Focus on cash, not accounting gimmicks
4. Invest in the future – people and facilities
“We’re in the middle of the cycle,” says Mendelson about South Florida, meaning there’s every reason to remain optimistic and benefit from Miami’s diverse population, pro-business environment, and strong legacy of family business.
Alma Kadragic is president of Alcat Communications International and president of the National Association of Women Business Owners Miami, nawbomiami.org.