By Graziella DiNuzzo
Fred Winter recalls living in tents and trailers in various South African countries like Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and of course South Africa as the most developed and richest mining country with many other mining engineers from all over Europe.
“I was recruited by the South African Bureau of Mines who did exploration work for the largest mining corporation in the world like Anglo-American, Anglo Vaal, BHP, Rio Tinto etc. After a number of years I was hired by Siemens AG to sell electro equipment to the various mining companies. I left my home in Germany as a young man to work alongside miners who excavated metal, minerals and concentrates from open pit and underground mines. We worked down in the mines for minerals about 2 miles underground. The most interesting mines were the platinum mines on the Highveld which are up to more than 1.5 miles underground. It was an interesting and volatile time, but I got along well with the miners from all over the world and the predominant local work force.”
As a newly arrived immigrant in the U.S., Fred continued his career as a geologist and engineer and would one day stumble upon an opportunity. He attended an auction in 1983 and bought the assets of a metal processing company in Camden, New Jersey and started F.W. Winter Inc. & Co.
Today, F.W Winter, Inc. & Co. is the leading industry supplier of metal and alloys in powder and lump form.
I sat with Fred Winter and his daughter Devon, in the wood paneled conference room at their manufacturing facility, proudly tucked next to the Ben Franklin Bridge in Camden, NJ.
What exactly does F.W. Winter produce and distribute?
“Chromium Metal, Low Carbon Ferro Chrome, High Carbon Ferro Chrome and Special Alloy Powders,” Devon quickly answers.
Okay, what do you do with them? Please answer like I am a fifth grader.
“We crush them to specification to use for specific applications,” Devon says. We import raw materials and also develop customized methods for the processing of customer-supplied materials. All products are manufactured by utilizing one or more of the following processes: crushing, grinding/milling, screening, classifying, and blending.”
The website outlines the following applications: Welding electrodes, Wire Manufacture, Hard-Faced Steel Plates, Chromium Aluminum Hardeners, Metal Injection Molding.
Devon picks up her cell phone, “like the outside of your phone, any product which requires specific metal.”
“Car engine chains, auto parts, welding bars, lots of uses in the aerospace industry.”
How much international business do you do?
“In 1983, we immediately began supplying to predominantly U.S. and South American customers because our main customer base were companies who produce welding electrodes,” explains Fred.
“We currently do 70 percent domestic and 30 percent international business,” adds Devon. “We have a lot of business in the mid-west and have customers in Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia.”
How did you get started in the family business?
“I started working for my dad helping with logistics and sales while working on my M.S. in Television Management and M.B.A at Drexel University in 2014. I attended University of Vermont and majored in Communications and Entrepreneurship.”
In 2018, Devon helped the company receive ISO 9001 certification, a globally recognized standard for Quality Management Systems (QMS). And in 2018 she worked to obtain F.W. Winter’s LEAN Manufacturer certification which reduces times within the production system and provides better response times from suppliers. All in the same year.
In 2019, Fred appointed his daughter Devon to become Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
“This is a non-traditional role for women, and Devon is very smart and capable. She also has a good relationship with the staff,” says Fred.
"Ah but with some customers, it wasn’t that easy, and I wasn’t accepted right away," adds Devon. “This is a male-dominated field and some just wanted to speak with Fred. But I am grateful to those customers who have become mentors.”
Devon currently sits on the Board of Women in Manufacturing.
“People don’t understand the amount of technicality and artistry that goes into manufacturing. Manufacturing careers offer an immense opportunity for young people. At 30, I have seen so much, and it has taken me all over the world. Today manufacturing is more interesting than people think. It combines marketing, sales, global politics, supply chains, so much – not mundane at all.”
According to the, US Department of Commerce women make up about 47% of the total workforce and only about 30% are employed in the manufacturing industries, and only 1 in 4 manufacturing leaders are women.
We take a walk through the plant and meet Clark Davis who has been working in the plant for 39 years. “I’ve been here a long time; he yells over the loud sound of the mills currently in crushing mode. I’ll tell you anything you need to know, he says laughing. ”
Devon stops to say hello to another plant worker, Wayne Howell, who has worked with the Winter family for 21 years. He shows us raw minerals he is working with.
As an essential business, F.W. Winter remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We continued to pay our employees during COVID, even though we weren’t very busy,” says Fred. “It was the right thing to do.”
“We are currently at 21 people and looking to hire. As some employees are beginning to retire," Devon explains, “Fred won’t say but over the years he also helped some staff with personal expenses such as funeral costs, etc. Fred always took care of the staff and worked alongside the plant operators. He never expected them to do anything he wouldn’t do.”
In 2015, F.W. Winter received the Member Company of the Year award from the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia. “We provide the highest quality and service and have built a corporate culture and team where we strive to adopt existing advances in manufacturing,” Devon confirms.
“We used to do everything by hand,” recalls Fred.
As Fred begins to tell me a story, Devon politely interrupts and say she would like to one day document her father’s adventurous life in the metal industry.
“Fred is ahead of the times to enable and promote a woman in the metal industry.”