You'd know a lot about Steve Hed just by spending a day with him at the Interbike show. It's not that his is a busy booth, although it is. What's interesting is who visits. Most booths of companies the stature of HED have meeting rooms, and brand leaders are most often hidden in those rooms paying special attention to big dealers and distributors. There is no meeting room at the HED booth and never has been. Steve Hed was always visible, eagerly sharing time with the geeks, the bicycle engineers, executives heading other brands; and more pros from more cycling-related sports than seem reasonable given his brand's company size. Steve treated them all with grace, but it was the geeks and engineers he most loved.
While he was talented and creative, it was his generosity that exemplified him. I once spent some time with Steve on a project up at his place, and at the same time I was there another fellow was visiting, a complete stranger to Steve, with a new idea for a small watercraft, but who was stuck and in need of special expertise. He cold-called Steve, who promptly invited this complete stranger up and - at no charge, which was the norm - Steve commenced spending day after day, for a week solid, helping this fellow complete his project.
I first met Steve through a mutual business associate in 1987. He was making wheels, I wetsuits. Neither of us had enough money to exhibit at a trade show, so the two companies - HED and Quintana Roo - exhibited together. For the next decade and more, and for the entire time I ran my company, and as our booth grew in size, we exhibited together. After I left my old company I still considered the HED booth my "home" booth whenever I attended Interbike.
It's commonly believed that Steve's wife Annie was the one with her feet on the ground during all those years while Steve, Chief Creative Officer, had his head in the clouds. Don't swallow that entirely. When DuPont wanted to showcase its abilities in composites its lead engineer on that project, Mark Hopkins, spent millions of dollars generating what may well have been the world's finest aero wheel. DuPont wasn't an end-product manufacturer, and it chose Specialized as the company to brand and sell this wheel. But Specialized didn't know what to do with it, and finally decided to exit the project. Steve was one of the very early bike industry wind tunnel experimenters, a regular at the Texas A&M wind tunnel back in the 1980s. He knew the value of this 3-spoke wheel because he'd tested it. He managed not only to buy the exclusive rights from Specialized, but to acquired the resin transfer molding factory in Spain where the wheel was made. The success that eluded Specialized with its trispoke flowed to Steve with the HED3.
It is my opinion that you find out a lot about yourself when you are self-employed; it's probably like what happens to those who go to war. You discover what you're made of when you're challenged by crushing defeat and exhausting setback. You discover what you value only when you must financially sacrifice in order to keep your word. I found out what kind of person I am and what I value. But it wasn't until this reflection on my friend's life that I now realize a good deal of the values I now hold were generated while spending time alongside Steve Hed.
Steve's business prospered before mine did. In the early years I often relied on the Bank of Steve. But in the very beginning he struggled too. He told me that he helped put food on the table by going out to the Minneapolis airport in the dead of the Minnesota winter, returning luggage carts for deposits. He'd tell me stories of racing the indigents for the carts, but you never really knew with Steve. Every now and then he'd put one over on you - he was one of the great storytellers.
But for me, in this, there is no fiction - were it not for Steve and Annie Hed I don't know what I would be doing right now, but holding a sign made of a cardboard box at the exit of a Costco is not out of the question. And were Steve to see me, a total stranger, as he exited that Costco, he'd have probably yelled out the window, "I can help you make a lighter, stronger sign; jump in the passenger seat and let's go to my workshop," and my new carbon fiber sign would only be the beginning of Steve's largesse.