ELYRIA — When Eddie Wilkinson, president of Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake, issued a challenge to employees to up their charitable donations to the United Way and dangled the carrot that he would shave his trademark hair and beard if they came through, he did not make such a pledge without at least some thought.
His dark, full head of hair — think Patrick Dempsey if you need a point of reference — has been recognized as a part of who he is for years. He never thought he would cut it.
“I have had the beard for 12 years,” he said. “It was important, but not as important as my hair. The hair has been recognized as kind of a part of who I am, and it’s openly recognized as something different from most other men of a similar age, or even younger men, as well. Not to mention, it keeps me warm in the Ohio winters.”
But as the adage goes — never say never.
Employees of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems and Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake took their dedication to the nonprofit organization to a new level, raising more than $77,000 for the 2013 United Way campaign.
Wilkinson, as a result, followed through with a haircut, delivered on Halloween by Ron of Ron’s Northview Barber Shop in North Ridgeville. It was the closing experience at this year’s companywide town hall meeting, a perfect time and place for a large portion of the Bendix workforce to watch the transformation firsthand.
“My hair has never been short, not even in elementary school,” Wilkinson said. “I once had surgery on my head and I made them only cut a very small area around the incision — which was the scar that the barber joked about. That was the only area on my head that has ever been cut that short.”
The exact challenge was for Bendix employees across the country to achieve 50 percent online donation participation during this year’s campaign. The employees responded by nearly tripling their 2012 participation numbers, surpassing the participation benchmark, and helping to beat the 2012 campaign pledge total by more than $10,000.
Bendix employees also topped their 2013 campaign goal of $75,000, raising $77,123.
“Helping community organizations like the United Way is part of who we are at Bendix,” said Wilkinson, who has been with Bendix since 1999 and was appointed president of BSFB in 2012. “I wanted to help draw attention to this year’s campaign while having a little fun with our employees. Of course, the Bendix team rose to the occasion. The generosity of our genuine Bendix workforce is simply amazing and something we’re really proud of.”
The 2013 local United Way campaign kicked off in August. The agency has not set a monetary fundraising goal — rather focusing its efforts on the impact in the community — but has been highly successful with fundraisers in recent years. Last year, it raised a total of $2.871 million.
Employees were just as happy to see the haircut as to donate.
“Eddie is a real trooper,” said a comment from the employee survey following the town hall meeting. “He had such a good sense of humor and grace. Thank you for making a personal sacrifice for the greater good. I’m sure I speak for many in saying that we are very proud of you.”
Along with the annual employee-run United Way campaign, Bendix employees donate their time and talents to local schools and organizations such as the Friendship Animal Protective League, the United Way of Greater Lorain County, the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program, the Second Harvest Food Bank, and the Cleveland Kidney Walk.
“A key part of our mission as a company is supporting the communities in which we live and work,” said Diane Shields, vice president of human resources.
“Whether it’s contributing financially to local philanthropic causes or with hands-on involvement, we encourage employees to enrich the quality of life in their communities.”
BSFB is a joint venture between Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, the North American leader in commercial vehicle active safety and braking system technologies, and Dana Commercial Vehicle Products. It is headquartered in Elyria with facilities in Michigan and Kentucky.