Lee J. Styslinger Jr.
The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 1998 and updated in January 2013.
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 turn 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 a handful of employees in a building that had originally been a furniture manufacturing plant. The company then manufactured flatbed trailers and customized trucks for industrial use, and made a name for itself as one of the first to use non-rusting aluminum truck parts when steel was in short supply for World War II.
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 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.
When he took over as general manager of the company, 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 Coca-Cola 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 any special type body a business needed.
Styslinger, at only 19, wanted to appear as grown-up as possible, so one of the first things he 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, 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 and narrowed its focus to products for the utility industry.
By 1963, Altec's sales volume had increased exponentially over 1952 figures, and the company’s workforce had grown significantly. 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. 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, GA.
In 1973, during the energy crisis, 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 for electric and telephone utilities.
Today, Altec, Inc. is the holding company for Altec Industries, Altec Worldwide, Global Rental, Altec Capital Services, Altec NUECO, Altec HiLine, Altec Supply, Altec Service Group, and Altec Ventures. The company manufactures and sells equipment to the electric utility, telecommunication, tree care, lights and signs, and contractor markets in North America and in more than 100 countries throughout the world.
Altec has continued its growth under the Styslinger family's leadership. Styslinger has three sons with his wife, 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 Chairman and CEO, Jon is President, and Mark is senior vice president. Lee III and Mark reside in Birmingham, and Jon is in Kansas City, Mo.
Lee Styslinger, Jr. has proven his commitment not only to his business but also to doing his civic duty. He has held positions on 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's 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.
In 2002 he was inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame, and in 2004, the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame.
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 only 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.