BendPak founder Don Henthorn passes away - Transmission Digest

BendPak founder Don Henthorn passes away

Don Henthorn, owner and founder of BendPak Inc., peacefully passed away at home Thursday, March 28, at the age of 85. Under his leadership, BendPak has grown from a small machine shop to one of the world’s leading manufacturers of car lifts and automotive service equipment.

Management and operations of the privately owned company are unchanged.

Henthorn transitioned day-to-day management to the current leadership team in 2022 as part of an established succession plan. Serving as chairman emeritus, he continued to coach the team, coming to the office six days a week.

“Don’s visionary leadership and unwavering dedication have been the cornerstone of BendPak’s success. His passion, wisdom, and guidance have left an indelible mark on all of us and the organization,” said Jeff Kritzer, BendPak president and CEO. “His legacy lives on through the values and principles he instilled in our company. He was not only a leader, but also a mentor, inspiring all of us to strive for excellence and to never settle for anything else.”

Henthorn enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19 years old. He was stationed at a Nike Ajax missile site in Connecticut. While there, he met Virginia Ann “Ginger” Eib, and they married two days after he was discharged in 1959. Three days after that, they moved to California, where he went to work in the burgeoning aerospace industry. After learning all he could, he started Quality Machine & Associates (QMA) in Simi Valley, California. This premier job shop specialized in precision machine work for aerospace and defense giants like Rocketdyne, Rockwell, and Hughes Aircraft.

Not content with the “feast or famine” workload of a job shop, Henthorn labored after hours to develop and patent specialty tools QMA could market itself. The most successful of these included the 5ivePak, a portable combination coil spring compressor, U-joint press and gear-puller; a MacPherson strut spring-compressor; and a portable exhaust pipe expander.

By the 1970s, Henthorn was increasingly focused on building equipment for the then-bustling muffler shop industry. In 1977, he oversaw construction of the company’s first new building, a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Moorpark, California. Two years later, QMA introduced a hydraulic tubing bender for muffler shops, and Henthorn was inspired to change the company name to match. “BendPak” was born. In 1983, responding to customer requests, Henthorn introduced BendPak’s first four-post lift and entered the vehicle lift market.

Over the ensuing decades, BendPak continued to grow. Today, the company has manufacturing and distribution facilities around the world and employs more than 275 people. In 2023, BendPak moved its global headquarters into a LEED Platinum certified administrative building in Agoura Hills, California. Work is underway on the BendPak Industrial Complex, a huge light industrial space being developed in Mobile County, Alabama, near the company’s recently expanded East Coast campus.

Never one to seek awards or accolades, Henthorn was a believer in hard work. Motivated by the fear of failure and the desire to expand his mind and his business, he pushed the company to continuously improve and grow. For decades, he was the first person in the door every day, starting between 5 and 6 a.m., Monday through Saturday. When asked the secret to BendPak’s success, he would answer simply, “We outwork everybody.”

Henthorn took his responsibility for the safety of millions of mechanics around the world very seriously and was committed to ensuring that BendPak produced superior products.

“We at BendPak wholeheartedly hold the philosophy that only going above and beyond on every product, for every customer, will keep us growing in this business,” he wrote in a letter to customers on BendPak.com. “When BendPak started, I was the sole name and voice attached to the company’s product development and operations. Today, BendPak exists beyond the control of just a few sharp minds. The hundreds of employees we hold dear are heard from and appreciated on a daily basis, which is why people continue to want to work here, and it’s why we’ll continue to thrive for generations to come.”

Henthorn could often be found out in the shop tinkering and inventing things. He also enjoyed golfing and sharing memories with friends, family, and colleagues.

Henthorn is survived by his wife, Ginger, daughter, Susan, and grandchildren Annika, Reagan, Carson, and Kennedy. He was preceded in death by his son, Gary.

For a look back on his life, please visit the BendPak blog. The blog will be updated with service information when available.

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