Bud Weisbart was determined to make a difference. He transformed A&R Tarpaulins into a leader in fabric and equipment manufacturing for the aerospace industry, and also turned the company into a beacon of inclusiveness, diversity and multiculturalism. After earning a degree in social service and serving in many social service roles, Weisbart entered the business world to promote diversity and to make a cultural difference in his community. He utilized his business to teach, train and coach employees to achieve their life goals.
Bud and his wife Carmen joined Bud’s father Ralph Weisbart and entrepreneur André Arrington in 1976 to launch A&R Tarpaulins. Initially the younger Weisbart and Carmen bought a one-third stake into the business, but eventually they bought out Ralph and André to become the exclusive owners. In 1988, A&R moved from Los Angeles to Fontana, Calif., so it could better serve the trucking industry. While the business makes architectural awnings, truck bed covers and other fabric products, A&R Tarpaulins is now primarily focused on the aerospace industry, which makes up about 80 percent of its business.
Weisbart grew up in Los Angeles during the 1960s and worked in his father’s laundry on Olympic Boulevard near the Watts neighborhood. When the Watts riots broke out in August 1965, Weisbart saw the aftermath first-hand, and it had a profound impact on him. He became acutely aware of the wide racial, economic and occupational divide that existed in America, and dedicated himself to making a meaningful difference in the lives of people at his company and throughout his community.
While spending roughly 17 years in various social services roles and in the Peace Corps, he dedicated his career to helping people. Through A&R Tarpaulins, Weisbart went about making changes at the local and community level. “Business was the best resource for creating advances that were necessary in my community,” says Weisbart. A&R has certainly attained incredible diversity at its 40-plus employee headquarters as five languages (Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino, English and Spanish) are spoken.
One of A&R’s most effective and successful initiatives is its internship program. It gives disadvantaged, immigrant and minority students an opportunity to learn a trade, gain vital skills and enter a career field. As Weisbart explains, it’s a “mentorship program and not an internship program.”
He continues, “In the interview process, we’re not just interviewing; the applicant is interviewing us. We show them not just what we do, but what we are, and then they determine whether this is a place for them, and whether it can benefit their lives.”
Many of the interns to leave the company have gone on to notable careers. According to Weisbart, one intern earned his law degree and then managed a major trucking company, another intern is head of the IT department at a local university, and another is a police officer on the SWAT team in Los Angeles.
After 43 years in business, A&R Tarpaulins has built a successful company, and it continues to serve as a gateway for many employees to launch their careers.
Paul Johnson is a writer based in Minnesota.