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  1. Hernando

Once small Hernando County firm now among the country's Top 500

Achilles Thomas, president of Monster Transmission, checks the work order to reassure that all was rebuilt in this transmission unit ready for shipment. BETH N. GRAY | Special to the Times
Published Aug. 15

MASARYKTOWN – Monster Transmissions is growing into a many-headed hydra -- of a productive sort. The 17-year-old family firm with a worldwide reputation for transmission rebuilds is spawning three more companies under the umbrella Fireball Brands.

Monster was ranked for the fifth consecutive year by Inc. magazine as one of the top 500 privately held companies in the country.

"We can spread our wings," said company president Achilles Thomas. It's doing so with Thor Converters, Burn Rubber Brewing Co., Nature Coast Media Group and Monstar, a franchising firm.

Fueling the expansion is Thomas's creativity and can-do attitude, along with the company's move this year into a 100,000-square-foot building complex on a 60-acre prairie and woodland site south of Brooksville. The employee roster has grown to 80. Hiring continues.

"With this expansion, we've become the largest custom transmission company in the country, probably the world," said Thomas.

Thomas, 37, is the fourth generation of his family involved in automotive pursuits. His great-grandfather started it all, establishing a taxi service in his native Greece. Achilles's grandfather, namesake and mentor spent his career as a master mechanic. His father, Curt Thomas, a retired master transmission mechanic, still makes training videos for Monster.

"So I grew up around it," today's Monster leader said. Also employed at the firm is Achilles' wife, Eva, finance and human resources; brother, Bobby, sales; and cousins, in various administrative positions.

"This is our fourth expansion," the president noted, following the firm's birth in a cozy 1,000-square-foot shop in Spring Hill. "Over 17 years, we have (served) over 100,000 customers worldwide." A recent glance into the shipping department revealed transmissions heading to California, Texas, Iowa, Colorado, Canada and Japan.

While inventory normally runs to 400 transmissions awaiting attention, Monster has associations with suppliers, so most parts can be delivered within a day or two. That enables turnarounds of a week or two, depending on the unit's needs. An extra-special order once called for next-day delivery to a customer in Hawaii. The feat was accomplished — with an air freight bill that exceeded the rebuild fee, Thomas noted.

Transmissions, also known as gear boxes, manage an engine's power output, and parts wear out over long mileage, Thomas explained. "A lot of clients like souped-up cars. They can bring their transmissions to life. It's their baby. They'll name it. They'll have it painted a favorite color." While the corner mechanic generally will remove and replace a broken part within a standard transmission, Monster service specialists strip the case and rebuild the unit to its original or an even higher performance level. A standard transmission contains about 50 moving parts; an automatic transmission has 600 to 700 moving parts.

"They'll run away from an automatic," Thomas said of the typical garage mechanic.

Anyone who has tinkered under the hood knows that a torque converter is connected to a transmission. So it makes sense to follow up a remanufactured transmission with an upgraded converter. Thor Converters was launched to remanufacture those units in the same manner as transmissions.

These engine mainstays require fuel to ease the movement of parts and to cool high temperatures of operation. To fulfill that need, Thomas said, Monster generated Burn Rubber Brewing Co. This firm formulates a performance transmission fluid called "Cider." The budding company also is devising other engine fluids.

In January, Monster announced Monstar, "a full-service auto transmission and repair franchise, a turn-key operation," Thomas said. The first is set to open in Tampa on Sept. 1. Thirty-eight more are planned from New York to Texas and Colorado.

While Monster's standing throughout the world continues to expand, Thomas emphasized the company's "strong core values as a family-owned business." The firm sponsors local amateur sports teams, contributes to area charities and churches and supports motor sports and car shows.

As a fun aside, Monster marketers got into video filming of such events and giving copies to event holders. Nature Coast Media Group resulted six years ago and has grown into a full-service marketing firm offering videography, web development and event planning.

The umbrella Fireball Brands now hires not only mechanics, but manufacturing technicians, warehouse and distribution specialists, support and administrative personnel, graphic designers and social media marketers, Thomas pointed out.

"He's got a vision for his Fireball brands," said Pat Crowley, executive director of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce. "It says so much for our community. We actually grow our small companies exponentially. We're very fortunate to have a company like Monster."

And Thomas continues to push.

"We've got a bunch of stuff in the works," he offered with a smile. "I'm not ready to share it yet."

Contact the writer at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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