Dueling Perspectives: Bill and Mike Betts

By Barbara Spector

The G6 president and G5 CEO of Betts Company, Fresno, Calif., discuss innovation.

Betts Company, based in Fresno, Calif., celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Founder William Michael Betts, an English spring maker, sailed to the United States in search of better opportunities, first settling in St. Louis and then moving to California. In 1868, he established Betts Spring Company in San Francisco. The company made springs for streetcars, wagons and horse-drawn carriages.

Not surprisingly, the sixth-generation business has evolved over the years. Today, Betts Spring Manufacturing, one of Betts Company’s three divisions, custom designs and manufactures springs for transportation and other industrial applications. Betts Truck Parts and Service provides replacement parts and installation and repair services for commercial vehicles. BettsHD makes safety-related products for heavy-duty tractor/trailer applications.

The company’s purpose statement, featured in its advertising, is “Improving the Way Things Move Since 1868.”
Betts has a long history of innovation. In 1954, the company received the first patent for a spray-suppression product, which reduces the projection of spray or scattering of mud and pebbles from truck tires. In 1956, fourth-generation leader William Michael Betts III invented the first mud flap holder for heavy-duty trucks.

On May 10, 2018, the company — now led by fifth-generation CEO Mike Betts, 62, and sixth-generation president Bill Betts, 36 — marked its anniversary with a celebration attended by about 400 people, including employees, vendors and community officials.

Entrepreneurship runs strong in the Betts family. Bill Betts earned undergraduate degrees in accounting and entrepreneurship as well as an MBA and worked as a business risk/supply chain consultant before joining the family business. His two sisters both founded their own businesses. Carolyn Betts Fleming’s company, Betts Recruiting, is a global firm with multiple U.S. offices. Catherine Betts’ company, Betts Fit, makes sports bras.
We asked Bill and Mike: How does a 150-year-old company encourage innovation?

Bill Betts, G6 president: “Innovation can cover a broad spectrum. Most of what we’ve innovated hasn’t been [inventing] something that didn’t exist before. It’s thinking more about what we need to do to continue to evolve to remain relevant. We look at it as a continuous improvement: how to keep adapting, whether it be a product, a process, the way we hire, the way we onboard our team, the way we train, the way we market, the type of equipment we either buy or design. So to us innovation isn’t strictly just outward-facing to a market. It can also be inward-looking. It becomes more a mindset of not being overly comfortable with where we are.

“What’s key isn’t necessarily predicting the future, it’s just embracing the fact that we’re going to have to change to be relevant. We have to embrace a philosophical approach that for us to be relevant, we’re going to have to keep improving the way things move.

“The things that we’re super-comfortable doing are the things we’ve got to poke at and innovate.”

MIke Betts, G5 CEO: “We really focus on being in tune with our customers. We’re viewed as a critical partner to most of our customers from a design and engineering standpoint. Products change over time, and demands change and materials change.

“It just so happens that each generation [of the Betts family] was involved in designing and building products that there was a demand for, where the market had never been addressed. I think it’s partly luck, I think it’s partly happenstance, but I do think it’s ingrained in us based on the leaders before us — what they accomplished, and how their accomplishments helped leapfrog the company forward during their time.

“Knowing what has happened before has been the inspiration, I think, for each generation to [look ahead]. What’s the next innovation? What are we looking to do? How are we diversifying our product line? How are we growing? How is the market changing? What does the future look like for our business? So I think it’s just part of our DNA.”

Copyright 2018 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

 

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September/October 2018

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