When Lee Joseph Styslinger, Jr. left The University of Alabama at age 19 to take over the management of his father’s truck equipment company, no one could have predicted he would tum the company into a worldwide leader in its industry.
Styslinger was born in Birmingham in 1933 to Lee J. Styslinger, Sr., and Margaret McFarland Styslinger, where his father had moved at age 33 because it resembled his hometown of Pittsburgh. There, at the start of the Depression, Lee Styslinger, Sr. founded Alabama Truck Equipment Co. with 20 employees in a building that had originally been a furniture manufacturing plant. The company manufactured flatbed trailers for Fruehauf and customized trucks for industrial use, making a name for itself as one of the first to use non-rusting aluminum truck parts and hanging on through the Depression and the years of World War II when both men
Lee Styslinger Jr. always intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. He attended St. Paul’s elementary school and graduated from St. Bernard Preparatory School in Cullman. He then attended The University of Alabama with plans to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. Instead, his father’s death in 1952 left him responsible for the management of Alabama Truck Equipment Co. sooner than he had anticipated and steel was in short supply.
When he took over as general manager of the company, it employed 12 people, and its sales were approximately $100,000 a year. The business was owned by his mother and operated as a proprietorship. The company manufactured utility bodies for Alabama Power Co., a line of bottler bodies for CocaCola and Buffalo Rock, a line of dairy bodies, dump bodies, bakery bodies for McGough Bakeries, van bodies for Baggett, and Jack Cole Motor Freight, and a special type bod a business needed.
Styslinger, at only 19, wanted to appear grown-up as possible so one of the first things did as manager was buy a hat and wire-rimmed glasses. Four years later, he was named president of the company. Styslinger convinced his family to form a corporation and allow him to buy 51 percent of the stock. The company was incorporated for $ 6,000, not including the land, which still belonged to Styslinger’s mother, and the name changed to Altec, Inc.
Styslinger, who had been studying accounting in night school at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, decided the company could no longer afford to be in the manufacturing business. When the company incorporated, it switched to distributing equipment made by other manufacturers. Altec also decided to narrow its focus to products for the utility industry.
By 196 3, Altec’s sales volume had increased 35 times over 1952 figures, and the company had more than 100 associates. With more money to work with, Styslinger returned again to manufacturing. Styslinger formed Altec Manufacturing Co., a separate entity, to manufacture the bodies that were part of the total utility equipment package. Altec, Inc. continued as a distributor of digger derricks and aerial platforms. By 1967, Altec had increased its sales 50 times over those of 1952 and had 175 employees.
From the mid-‘ 60s through the early 70s, Altec began to stretch its wings. A Northern Division was established in Indianapolis to provide sales and assembly services to the booming Indiana and Illinois markets, and a service center was opened in Atlanta. Despite an energy crisis, by 1973 sales were at $20 million, and Altec employed 400 associates.
In that year, Altec made the risky decision to go into competition with its own suppliers and constructed a factory in St. Joseph, Mo., where the company began designing its own products. The decision was a good one. By 1979 the company’s Midwest Division was a full-scale manufacturer of digger derricks and aerial platforms for electric and telephone utilities.
Today, Altec Inc. is the holding company for Altec Industries, Altec Worldwide, Global Rental, Altec Capital Services, NUECO, Altec Hiline, and Altec Ventures. Altec has more than 2,300 associates working in sales, service, and manufacturing facilities throughout the United States and in several foreign countries. The company’s total revenue is just south of a billion dollars. Altec sells and services equipment in more than 87 countries around the world and offers an extensive product line for the electric utility, telecommunication, tree care, and other related industries.
Altec has continued its growth under the Styslinger family’s leadership. Styslinger has three sons with his wife of 42 years, the former Catherine Smith, and all three, Lee Joseph III, Jon Cecil, and Mark Joseph are employed by Altec. Lee J. Styslinger III is now president and CEO of Altec, and Jon and Mark are both senior vice presidents. Lee III and Mark are located in Birmingham, and Jon is in Kansas City, Missouri
Lee Styslinger, Jr. has proven his commitment not only to his business but also to doing his civic duty. He has held positions n the Board of Trustees for Highlands Day School and the Birmingham Symphony Association and has served on the Board of Directors of such organizations as the American National Red Cross, Children Harbor, Junior Achievement of Greater Birmingham, and St. Vincent’s Hospital. He is a past member of the Birmingham Music Club, the Birmingham Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Metropolitan Development Board. Since 1998 he has served as finance chairman for the Birmingham Museum of Art. Styslinger and his, wife attend St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
Styslinger is also active in the business community. He currently serves on the board of directors for Advanced Labelworx, Inc., Electronic Healthcare Systems, Jemison Investment Company, Inc., and MeadWestvaco Corporation. In the past, he has served on the boards of a number of companies including Complete Health, Health Services Foundation, Regions Financial Corporation, Saunders System, and Southern Research Institute. He has served on the Board of Governors and Executive Board of both the United States and Birmingham Area chambers of commerce. He is a past member of the National Alliance of Businessmen, the Equipment Manufacturers Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers. Styslinger has been named to the Alabama Academy of Honor and was an honoree for Re-Entry Ministries’ Builders of Birmingham.
Styslinger attributes most of the success of his company to the Altec associates and to his father. Altec’s philosophy about its associates is “Work should be to an adult what play is to a child – enjoyable.”
In a speech he gave to the Rotary Club of Birmingham on Altec’s 60th anniversary, Styslinger said of his father, “My hope is that I am able to inspire in others at least a fraction of the strength he left for me.” Styslinger’s hope has already become fact; he has passed a legacy of strength on to his sons and a strong, growing corporation on to the world.