For four generations, going on five, business is a family affair for the Nortons.
By Allan Nahajewski
In business and leisure, Heath Norton is a family man.
As vice president of five family businesses, he’s following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
And if you’ve attended a Bloomfield Hills Youth Soccer League game this fall, you probably have seen him. He coached each of his three daughters’ teams.
The family business got its start in 1950 when Harold Norton, then a retired engineer in Indianapolis, was visiting an aunt in northwest Ohio. He saw a tool-and-die shop for sale and, unbeknownst to his wife, decided to buy it.
“He went home and said, ‘Honey, we’re moving to Ohio.’ And that’s how it all began,” Heath says.
The shop in Fostoria, Ohio, grew to become the Norton Manufacturing Company, which at one time had 450 employees.
“I grew up in that factory,” Heath says. “It was my playground. I would walk through the plant, nose around, and the business became ingrained in me. I went away to college, but every summer would work in the plant. I have a deep connection on a very personal level to the products we make.”
The tool-and-die shop has evolved over the years. In the 1970s, the company began to focus on crankshaft production.
“We started to service the high-performance racing business,” Heath says. “We had been selling to other companies, but it got to the point where we said, ‘If they could do it, we could, too.’”
In 1989, Callies Performance Products was born. The new business was a big change for the family company. Instead of selling mainly to original equipment manufacturers, the company began reaching out to the racing community.
“It’s a different world,” Heath says. “We had to change our mindset. There’s no forecasting or planning. We had to tailor to the customer.”
Today, Callies products can be found in cars, trucks, boats, planes — “anything V-8-based that likes to go fast,” he adds. “We really focus on the drag-racing crowd — dirt tracks, circle tracks, sprint cars.
“My kids and I love to watch the cars on Woodward. I always ask the cruisers what’s under the hood and find out what they’re doing and why. It’s great info for us.”
Heath says sweating the details is the Callies edge.
“In racing, a 10th of a second can make a big difference. We tend to push more technology into our product than most. We have in-house metallurgy and fatigue-testing engineers who do a fantastic job. On top of that, our sales team is great at understanding what the needs of the customer are, which is important, because every customer is unique and different.
“It really is a good business to be in because it is passion-driven. Owning a 1,500-horsepower vehicle is a luxury, and our customers usually don’t mind spending money to have what they perceive to be the best.”
In addition to Callies, the family business also includes Aviation Manufacturing, Energy Manufacturing and Tecnoma Industries, which serves as a trading company. The assets of the original Norton Manufacturing Company were sold a few years ago. The remaining company is now known as NMC. Heath’s father, Richard, 66, is the president of all five companies, which now employ 190. Heath, 40, is the vice president.
“I’ve been working in the family business for more than a decade now, and my father is still surprised I’m here.”
Heath helped solidify the companies’ presence locally by moving to Oakland County in 2003.
“A lot of our customers are here. And some of our customer base is international, so it also made a lot of sense for me to have an office closer to an airport.”
Heath lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, Julie, daughters Lola, 9, Mira, 7, Roxie, 5, and son Rider, who is 1½.
Will the next generation continue in the business?
“I can see it happening,” he says. “Mira has already expressed an interest in working with my father and me some day. In what business, I can’t tell you. We are constantly starting new businesses, growing, changing and trying to keep relevant.
“We’re always looking for new opportunities. We add new products to our racing business every year. In 2007, we only made crankshafts. Since then, we’ve added connecting rods, camshaft cores, and we’re working on a few more that will be launched next year. We are constantly adding to our portfolio to grow the business and better support our customers.”
For more on Callies Performance Products, visit www.Callies.com. NS