James L. Hutchings
James L. Hutchings
Chairman of the Board and CEO
S&H Automotive Products. Inc.
Class Year: 1990
Born in 1938 in Pontiac, Michigan, Jack Hutchings came from a broken home. "My folks did the best they could," he says, "but they had more problems than they could handle." Compounding his family situation was a congenital, degenerating optic nerve disorder that caused him to progressively lose his sight. By the age of 16, he was legally blind, and by the time he reached his 30s he was virtually sightless.
A talented vocalist, Hutchings was a rock and roll singer in high school. He spent four summers at the highly regarded Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan and won a scholarship to the New York Conservatory of Music. Rather than take the scholarship, however, he opted to get married. He went to work at Kresge's, planning to be a soda fountain manager. It wasn't long before his marriage failed and he began having severe financial difficulties. "Sears repossessed my storm windows and my car, and the only reason the furnace wasn't taken out was that it was too difficult to bring up from the cellar," he says. "That's when I decided to go out on my own."
Mechanically talented, Hutchings worked long hours in his garage to establish a business. He remarried and with emotional support from his wife, Barbara, he developed S&H Fabricating & Engineering, which supplied air conditioning assemblies for car companies. "When I started, I had $25 and a couple pieces of equipment. Today, to go into this business it would cost you $25 million." More than 90 percent of his work was for General Motors.
When asked what skills he possesses that have helped make him a success, Hutchings says, "If I hadn't brought in specialists and professional managers, such as comptrollers and computer people, I'd have gone under. I've had a lot of people working for me who are a lot smarter than I am." Hutchings says his ability to sense the direction of the automotive market gave him the insight to make many difficult and complex decisions. His sixth sense for the proper move at the right time has been a major factor in the company's surging success.
Hutchings' friends refer to him as generous and loyal and remark that he has taken what would otherwise have been a dark and bitter life and created an insightful and inspirational example. He believes that success has meant being able to do whatever he wants, with no restrictions. "I spend a lot of time with kids," he says. "I show them that despite a handicap, you can do anything you want to do. My story is that no matter what you have going against you, if you want it badly enough, you've got to take it, and never look back."
Hutchings' philosophy of life is simple: "No matter if you've got one leg or one arm or can't see, you're still as good as the next guy. You just have to work a little harder to prove it." He is honored to be a part of the Horatio Alger Association, whose members serve as role models to America's youth. "I'm glad the Association does so much to help deserving youth get an education, but I am also glad to serve as a role model. If I can make it, anyone can."