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The Remarkable Journey of Linamar Founder Frank Hasenfratz

In Budapest

From left: BBJ online editor Bence Gaál, co-author Susan M. Papp and, live from Canada via video link, Linda Hasenfratz.

The Hungarian translation of “Driven to Succeed,” the biography of the extraordinary life and times of Hungarian-born Frank Hasenfratz, founder of Linamar, one of the world’s largest automotive manufacturing companies, was held at the Canadian Embassy in Budapest on July 13.

A discussion on the man and the book was joined in person by co-author Susan M. Papp and via a video link by Linda Hasenfratz, his daughter and successor as CEO of Linamar. The conversation ranged from anecdotes from Frank’s childhood and youth to Linda’s recollections of her father, her journey within the family business, and her father’s enduring legacy. However, current business issues were also on the table.

Ms. Hasenfratz, who was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame alongside her father in 2016, shed light on the present state of affairs at Linamar, acknowledging the challenges posed by supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian war.

However, she noted, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. With the exception of 2020, Linamar managed to post strong, double-digit growth every year.”

She also noted that the company’s resilience is in no small part the result of the hard work of her father and the company culture and values he built up over the years.

Furthermore, Ms. Hasenfratz reassured the audience of Linamar’s commitment to Hungary, applauding the “exceptional” quality of the work at the company’s five factories in the country. Regarding her personal connection to the country, she said she tends to visit every year, on business but also on family holidays. She also noted how her father liked entertaining his children and grandchildren with stories from his youth in Hungary.

Lessons in Life

The event also provided an opportunity to explore the lessons derived from Frank Hasenfratz’ life story.

Co-author Papp encapsulated these lessons: “I think the most important lesson is ‘never give up.’ Frank had to leave everything behind as he participated in the 1956 uprising and became a wanted man. Arriving in Canada with just five dollars in his pockets, he endured nights sleeping at railway stations. Yet, against all odds, he managed to build a prosperous business and raise a remarkable family.”

Linda Hasenfratz highlighted how her father’s life experiences taught him not only to work hard but also to respect everyone, even the homeless man lying on a bench in front of a railway station, as he found himself in a similar situation after he got off the boat in Canada.

Papp told the audience that many of the Hungarians who emigrated to Canada in the aftermath of the failed revolution did remarkably well. [According to the website The Canadian Encyclopedia, about 37,000 Hungarian refugees came to Canada between 1956 and 1957.] The Canadian government invested millions of dollars into the Hungarian refugees to help them gain a foothold in their new homeland.

A few years later, when a new, more conservative government decided to see whether the state had got value for money, they were shocked to discover that just six Hungarian families were living on welfare.

The Hungarian version of the book, translated by Eszter Balassa, is now available under the title “Hajtás a Sikerért,” bringing the life story and business successes of Frank Hasenfratz to a new audience. It is published by the Rákóczi Foundation in arrangement with Dundurn Press Limited.

Frank Hasenfratz: A Life Less Ordinary

Frank Hasenfratz was born in Szár (50 km west of Budapest by road) in 1935. He grew up during one of the most challenging periods of Hungarian history, surviving World War II as a child and trying to make a living during the dictatorship of Mátyás Rákosi, the self-styled “Stalin’s most excellent pupil.” After playing a crude workplace prank, cutting out pictures of Rákosi from newspapers and placing them in the washrooms to serve as toilet paper, he was detained and interrogated by the dreaded communist secret police for a month.

The 1956 revolution against communist oppression broke out as he did his compulsory national service in the Hungarian army. After seeing the events unfold in Budapest, his unit decided to defect to the Hungarian rebels, and Hasenfratz became a revolutionary council member.

When the USSR crushed the revolution soon after, Hasenfratz had to flee the country to escape imprisonment or worse. First, he went to Austria, then Italy, and after realizing that his plan to join the French Foreign Legion might not be the best idea, he decided to board a ship sailing for the other side of the Atlantic.

He arrived in Canada in 1957, receiving a grand total of five dollars from the state as help upon entry, determined to forge a new path for himself. In 1963, he established Linamar in his garage, initially focusing on the production of oil pumps.

Fueled by his relentless drive and determination, the company experienced rapid growth, eventually diversifying its operations to include delivering parts for the U.S. defense industry and manufacturing farming equipment.

Linamar became a publicly traded company in 1986, and today has locations all over the world (including Hungary), focusing on manufacturing products for the auto industry. Hasenfratz’ daughter Linda took over as the company CEO in 2002, but he remained involved in the company’s affairs until his death last year.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 28, 2023.

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