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Industry leader Bill Austin dies after long illness

Published December 8, 2015

OLDSMAR, Fla. (BRAIN) — Bill Austin, whose role in the bicycle industry spanned more than 30 years, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 78.

Many in the industry perhaps best remember Austin for his keen focus on developing reliable industry statistics during his many years serving on the board of the Bicycle Products Suppliers Association.

His career spanned executive leadership positions at Schwinn, Giant USA and Raleigh Bicycles. “He was passionate for the industry and the dealer,” recalled Steve Meineke, former president and CEO at Raleigh USA.

“That passion was translated in many forms as both an industry advocate and how he ran the industry’s statistical committee. He grabbed that (statistics) and embraced it,” Meineke said. “It was during an era (the 1990s) when the industry really needed it. Still, he always kept his eye on the dealer,” he added.

Austin joined the industry after leaving General Electric to join Schwinn Bicycles as an executive vice president reporting to Ed Schwinn. He joined the company in 1979.

“Bill was unique. He came to Schwinn at a critical time and his expertise was really needed,” recalled Jay Townley, a Schwinn executive who reported to Austin at the time. “I am always saddened when I learn that someone in the industry has passed away,” he added.

Skip Hess, who first joined Giant USA in 1987 as its product manager, said Austin brought a “lot of business knowledge” to the industry. “We didn’t really want to talk about business. It was always product- and sales-centric. Bill always loved the numbers. He was one of those guys who could always find that bad number in a stack of reports and he was always right,” Hess said.

Pat Cunnane, president and CEO of Advanced Sports International, said he first worked with Austin in 1988. Austin had just been named president of Giant USA and he was putting a team together in New Jersey. “I had talked with him after Interbike and he told me that he had been sick. Even though I had some warning, I couldn’t believe it. I’m still sort of in shock,” Cunnane said.

“He was such a vibrant person and he was so important to me and my career. I can’t imagine how Jean (Austin’s wife) and his kids and grandkids are feeling,” Cunnane added.

No matter what the industry function, Jean would always be close at hand, many recalled. “She was the consummate hostess,” said Meineke, who traveled with the couple when sponsoring dealers who were members of the Heron Council, a group of high-achieving Raleigh dealers. “There are dealers who will never forget those trips with Jean and Bill,” he added.

Hess described the couple as being very close. “Bill could be pretty direct and he was a great administrator. But Jean tempered that with a little sensitivity. They pretty well complemented each other,” he said.

Austin was also a football fan. He played for Rutgers from 1956 to 1958 and was selected by the Associated Press as a first-team player on the 1958 College Football All America Team. He finished sixth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Information on services was unavailable Tuesday. This article will be updated as more information becomes available.


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