Rarely do the Captain and I get to sit down with such an inspiring and visionary leader like Billy Fritts. He is one of the most genuine, humble, hospitable, good-natured, powerful, influential and blessed people in Michigan that you’ve probably never heard of. 54-years young William G. Fritts, aka: Billy Fritts, does not lust after the spotlight and it literally took JobbieCrew a few years to track this man down for an interview.
Widely loved and respected in the global auto industry, Billy Fritts owns several companies with hundreds of employees. I can see why Fritts is so successful and able to attract so many people with the power of his positive thinking. Talking with Fritts you really start to feel that anything, if you put your mind to it, truly anything is possible.
So, here we are, sitting inside Fritts’ Viking Sportfish, named “O” Baby, moored in beautiful MacRay Harbor. The boat is gently bobbing as water laps the sides and we’re having a beer while listening to his fascinating personal life and the incredible true history of Jobbie Nooner.
How Jobbie Nooner Became Jobbie Nooner
Billy Fritts efforts popularized Jobbie Nooner on a large scale. Yes, it is true that Lee O’Dell & Lee Wagner went out for a boat gathering on June 28th, 1974. However, it was only when Billy Fritts, out of respect for Lee & Lee, named it “Lee & Lee’s Jobbie Nooner” and started designing and passing out flyers and amping it up that it actually transformed into Jobbie Nooner. Perhaps organizing Jobbie Nooner parties was good training for building multi-million dollar companies later on?
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Fritts says “God brings people together for a purpose. That’s why you guys are here now and that’s why at 18yrs old, fresh out of Hazel Park High School, I got a job being a draftsman at Entech and my leader was Lee Wagner. I worked at a few job shops, as did all of us jobbies, we moved from one program to the other. Most jobbies would bounce around between Modern Engineering, Aero Detroit, Entech, etc. It was Dave Benac, Ray Cetnar, Lee Wagner & and his good buddy Lee O’Dell who took me under their wing and taught me the trade.”
“I came in about 1979-1980 and the Lee’s and other jobbies had been going on Lake St. Clair for a few years. They pulled Nooners, taking off in the afternoon for some drinks and fun. In the job shop business there was a thing known as the ‘2 O’clock Rule’, where you were not allowed to come back to work after 2:00 pm (he laughs). My one leader, Dave Benac, would send me out to go get the guys and bring them back to work before 2:00. I would get there and they wouldn’t let me leave (laughs) Bless those guys. They’re still a tight group.”
“In the beginning, the boat party was not called ‘LEE & LEE’S Jobbie Nooner.’ It was just a bunch of jobbies going out for an afternoon drinking on their boats. I asked Dave Benac if I could invite some girls out onto his boat. He said of course. Then in the early 1980’s, I started making the flyers and naming the annual gathering “Lee and Lee’s Jobbie Nooner.”
When Fritts was 21yrs old he bought his first 26’ Sea Ray Sundancer boat and kept it at Bel Mar Harbour. One year he had so many people on his boat that his swim platform was a foot underwater. That’s the time he and Don Corey made up flyers for “Lee & Lee’s Jobbie Nooner” and would fax them around to the other job shops. All the jobbies would put them on their bulletin boards and break rooms. And Jobbie Nooner just took off from there.
Billy Fritts moves Jobbie Nooner from Fisher Bay to Gull Island back to Fisher Bay & finally back to Gull Island
Usually at the boat party, Fritts would be one of the first boats to arrive. He would throw anchor in Fisher Bay and he and his crew would make a big horse shoe of 30-50 boats and then organize this fun water pit where they would be launching water balloons back and forth. Everyone was cool and there were no problems in those days. Around 1984-86, he decided to move Jobbie Nooner from Fisher Bay to Gull Island. So he did just that. Billy Fritts moved Jobbie Nooner to Gull Island.
When they left Fisher Bay, the jobbies had about 200 to 300 boats at the party. Then within a couple years there were hundreds more. Fritts moved the party to Gull Island to get people off the boats with thoughts of a parasail, live band, volleyball, etc. His friend Gary Kubicki even brought out a massive 8ft long BBQ grill. But Fritts didn’t like that the island was so big, he missed everyone being close together. “The party was so spread out for the event that we wouldn’t even see each other,” Fritts says. So, he moved it back to Fisher Bay but only for a short stay because water levels had dropped and it was too shallow for most boats. So, he then permanently moved Jobbie Nooner back to Gull Island.
It was on Gull Island that the Mardi Gras beads phenomenon started, which is where you give beads for favors. At all the early boat parties, everyone had respect for each other. “There was only one fight” Fritts recalls, “and it was quickly broken up.” He has gone to every Jobbie Nooner except one. He’s also only been onto Gull Island once or twice in the past ten years and he is most likely to be seen on the North Side of Gull Island hosting several dozen people onboard “O” BABY.
William G. Fritts Biography
Billy Fritts is best known for his legendary kindness and generosity. He was born on April 11th, 1961.
Fritts grew up in Hazel Park, Michigan. His Father Gilbert was a Hazel Park police lieutenant for 35 years. His Mother Louise was a housewife of four children Connie, Vickie, Debbie and William. He graduated from Hazel Park High School in 1979 and worked at a steak house in Madison Heights.
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A retired Chief Engineer from GM Truck & Coach, where Lee O’Dell worked as a freelance designer, said to Billy, ‘I’ll teach you how to design automobiles. I won’t pay you but I’ll teach you’. So in the early mornings for one year he would have lessons from 6am-10:45am. He had told Fritts ‘If you work as hard at drafting as you do in this restaurant , Billy, one day you’ll probably have your own engineering business.’ Now, Fritts owns many companies. He found out he hada knack for designing. He’s been known to work back to back hundred-hour work weeks and became one of the highest paid designers in the Detroit area.
In 1998, Fritts founded Prestige Engineering. “I started the company from my kitchen table and I was blessed to be able to rent a little office at 13 Mile and Ryan Road, a little 12 x 12 office in a 3800 sq ft. building that I eventually purchased,” he says.
In his younger days, he was known for throwing fun house parties, some attendance numbering in the hundreds. Some parties got so big that he had to have traffic-flow controllers!
As for being a boater, “I love it. I love the Michigan boating community.” Fritts started with a 26’ Sea Ray and has owned various boats between his first Sea Ray and his current Viking.
He also enjoys hockey. As a young man he played forward in the AAA travel hockey league. He loves his family. His wife Tracy, his two daughters Paige and Kenedy who attend Anchor Bay schools. The Fritts family attends North Shore Church, a non-denominational Christian church, in New Baltimore. “God is first in all of our lives,” says Billy.
The Prestige Group: Billy’s Portfolio of Many Businesses
Billy Fritts is the classic self-made American entrepreneur. Having personally met and got to know Billy Fritts, I would describe him as the man with X-ray vision for identifying the hidden potential inside things and then working hard to help actualize the development of that potential.
He opened Prestige in 1998. His Prestige Group is a family of six automotive companies doing everything from engineering to vehicle development to high-speed machining to assembly and warehousing to about a thousand other things in between. He employs hundreds of families and grosses multi-millions annually. His growth has exceeded 500% since the bad economy. “We give the client Quality, Timing, and Value,” Fritts says. “Prestige has also been nominated by one of the OEMs for supplier of the year.”
Prestige Extreme has 20 CNC mills. Prestige also has a sorting company located in Kentucky and one in Imlay City, Michigan. Prestige Group has made several vehicles for various auto shows, movies, television commercials, etc, featured worldwide, including sending cars to Atlanta for the recent ‘Fast & Furious 7’ movie.
Billy the Hustler:
Harley’s Pub, Browns Bar, The Boatyard, etc.
Billy is always hustling. In a good way. He’s always on the move. Some call his magic “Billydust”, where he takes on underperforming businesses and turns them into gold.
For instance, in his youth he’d buy mini-bikes and dirt bikes. Then later he bought cars, fixed them up and sold them for profit. As he got older he bought houses, same thing. Then in 1993, he bought a bar in Mt Clemens, stripped the building and renamed it Harley’s Pub then later FRITTS’ PUB (77 N. Main St, Mt Clemens).
He enjoys riding motorcycles. His favorite being a Harley-Davidson Road Glide. He’s been riding since he was a boy. From Motocross to sport bikes until one day his buddy pulled up on a 1990 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Gray Ghost. “It was the coolest bike I had ever seen. Gun metal gray, with seven gold bands. Harley had only made the bike in one color, one year,” he says. So, Fritts went right out and bought one, which he still owns to this day.
At Harley’s Pub, he decided to start a mid-week car cruise. In early Spring, he sent flyers to the Autorama, asked girls to pass them out, “the flyer said ‘starting Wed, May 22nd car cruise at Harley’s PUB’. We soon had hundreds of cars attending. It helped amp up the mid-week slump plus it’s just fun to have a cruise.” He also would have hundreds of Harleys and other motorcycles in front of the blues rockin’ Pub.
In 1996, Billy Fritts purchased Browns Bar (6630 Middle Channel Dr, Harsens Island). He needed a place that could accommodate BIG BOATS, BIG BEERS and BIG PARTYS! So Fritts bought what he calls his cottage. “Bill FRITTS’ BROWNS” is full of great people, great food, and plenty of ice cold beer and has been known to host over a 100 boats. Browns is managed by the famous Chef David Thompson. “Chef Dave is one of the finest people I have ever met, with an AAA+ personality,” says Fritts.
Browns Bar opened in 1946 and every year they have a legendary kickass Halloween costume party! Browns Bar opens for the 2015 season on Wednesday, May 20th at 11am and closes late.
Recently, Bill Fritts bought The Boatyard Grill in Chesterfield. The Boatyard just made over 800lbs of pork for ‘The Annual Blessing of the Bikes’ held at Gibraltar Trade Center and Chef Dave spearheaded the effort.
Inspiring Final Thoughts
Billy Fritts actively demonstrates a sort of paternal attitude toward the larger community and a dedicated willingness to give everyone an equal opportunity. Although busy, Fritts always makes time for his beautiful family and amazing galaxy of friends. He has perhaps the best combination of playful truly good-natured attitude mingled with razor sharp business acumen that I have ever encountered and I see why he owns many companies with hundreds of employees and why he is so successful in general.
“Give because you can” Fritts says, “because you’re willing to. Don’t worry about prosperity or wealth or reciprocation-based karma or any of that. Just give to those in need. Money doesn’t equal good taste or true happiness. It doesn’t. Most of the stuff you “own”, you don’t need. You just think you do. The best advice is to just be kind and love each other.”
“Things not running smoothly or not going the way they should is an inescapable constant. Its how we address these mistakes, crises, setbacks that defines our character of who we are. At Prestige, we have an inverted organization chart. Where I’m at the bottom of the org chart, and my job is to support everyone above me! I need people who love each other, who work together as a team and help each other to achieve a worthwhile goal for the positive benefit of everybody.”
We are very thankful that the notoriously media shy Billy Fritts granted us a rare in-depth interview, something he never does normally. He proved to live up to his well-known reputation of being a hard worker, having a good heart, being a man of action, not a talker, not an idler, being wealthy yet exceedingly humble, just a rare sort of human. The kind you wish there were more of. The kind you wonder why there aren’t more of. We left the interview sailing on an avalanche of optimism. A wave we’re still riding.
Browns Bar (6630 Middle Channel Drive, Harsens Island, Michigan) opens for the season on Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 at 11am and closes late. Come check it out!