A manufacturing icon with broad, lasting influence
Heinz Prechter first came to the United States as a 19-year-old exchange student, but would fall in love with America and transform himself into a manufacturing trailblazer, political fundraiser, and ultimately a changemaker in mental health research.
Born in Germany in 1942, he took an interest in cars at an early age, becoming an apprentice at trim and die companies when he was just 13. In 1963, he left Germany to study business administration at San Francisco State College, initially planning to stay just one year. While there, he got a job installing sunroofs and, securing a visa in 1964, he created the American Sunroof Company in Los Angeles. Investing $764 in tools and building a workbench out of an old door covered in aluminium, he quickly built a reputation as a custom sunroof manufacturer. When asked, years later, why he chose sunroofs, he quipped: “It was just something I knew.”
In 1967, Prechter moved his company from Los Angeles to Detroit after securing a contract with Ford Motor Company to install sunroofs in Mercury Cougars. American Sunroof, or ASC, expanded its scope to custom vinyl roofs and special concept cars, and by 1978 had modified more than 1.6 million American-made vehicles. Today, with its headquarters in Southgate, Michigan, ASC claims 1,000 employees throughout the U.S. Prechter’s vision for business in Michigan reached beyond ASC when he established Heritage Network Inc., a collective of Michigan-based companies dealing in transportation, hospitality, and communications. In 1990, he received the AHF’s Industry Leader of the Year Award.
In addition to being one of his generation’s standout entrepreneurs, Prechter made a mark as a visible and effective automotive advocate and political fundraiser. He played a key role in turning the Detroit Auto Show into the North American International Auto Show, and in influencing trade agreements. A close friend, confidante and prominent fundraiser for the Bush family, he was appointed chairman of the National Advisory Committee on International Trade by George H.W. Bush in 1990.
A longtime sufferer of bipolar disorder and depression, Prechter died tragically of suicide in 2001. His widow, Waltraud “Wally” Prechter created a foundation which led to the founding of the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, part of the University of Michigan Health System. This fund supports medical research in the areas of psychiatric genetics, pediatric bipolar disorder, neuroimaging and neurosciences. Since the fund began, the Prechter Fund has awarded millions of dollars to universities to research these conditions.
An enormous figure in industry and politics, and celebrated namesake in the realm of mental health research, Heinz Prechter’s influence is alive and well nearly two decades after his death.