Wescott retiring as president and CEO of Howell Labs

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

A CORPORATE MILESTONE — is taking place, as Paul Wescott, at left, president and chief executive officer of Howell Labs for 34 years, is handing the reins over to David Allen, at right. (Ackley Photo)

It was 34 years ago last month, that Paul A. Wescott left the prestigious Portland law firm of Drummond, Wescott and Woodsum he helped found to lead Howell Labs in Bridgton as its president, chief executive officer and director of the corporation.

Wescott joined Howell Labs, Inc. in those same capacities on July 1, 1977, so it is difficult to picture the company continuing on without him overseeing its operations. He was also an original investor in the internationally- recognized high-tech firm.

Unbelievably, Wescott will turn 80 in two weeks, so he said he figured it is time for him and his wife, Peggy, to be able to spend more time traveling, particularly to the British Isles, and delve more into one of his favorite subjects — genealogy. Wescott said he is also “somewhat of a Civil War buff,” and he anticipates taking future trips to some Civil War battlefields. He also serves as a trustee of the Maine Historical Society and continues to stay involved with the University of New England where he was a trustee for over 25 years. Paul and Peggy Wescott each have four grown children and a total of 14 grandchildren who “live from Taipei to Brunswick,” according to Wescott.

Wescott, whose father was a teacher, said he “grew up all over Maine” — living in Bar Harbor, South Berwick and Bucksport. He received his undergraduate degree in History at Colby College and then earned a law degree from New York University School of Law. Wescott practiced law in Pittsburgh for awhile, before co-founding the Portland law firm that he then left in order to take over the reins at Howell Labs.

Does he regret leaving the practice of law?

“Oh, I do,” Wescott said, “but, I still do ‘law’ things.”

Howell Labs Inc. has been at the forefront for almost half a century now, in developing shipboard machinery and servicing it, as well, with one of its primary customers being the United States Navy. HLI has been a leader in supplying dehydrators to the Navy. Its Shively Labs division is a leading worldwide supplier of FM antennas and related RF products.

“We are a very important supplier to the Navy, and we continue to develop new products,” stated Wescott. “On the broadcast side of the business, we have antennas worldwide. It’s nice to know all of the broadcasting towers for MPBN (Maine Public Broadcasting Network) are ours.” The company also has antennas gracing Times Square in New York City.

Ironically, Pete Howell, who started Howell Labs Inc. in 1964, and Ed Shively of Raymond, who founded Shively Labs the next year, both originally worked for Dielectric Communications in Raymond, Wescott said. Dwight Starbird left Dielectric about the same time as Howell and Shively and created Microwave Techniques. Then, in December 1980, Howell Labs Inc. purchased Shively Labs and seven years later HLI bought Microwave Techniques and then sold it three years after that.

“An awful lot of the people here, on the Shively side, worked at Dielectric,” Wescott said.

Wescott cited others who helped make HLI what it is today, including Donald “Steve” Collins, Gordon Drisko and Gary Somers.

Has anyone worked there longer than Wescott? Well, yes — in fact, Linda Gardner who is in in-house sales, assemblyman Al Mowatt and machinist Jerry Towne have all worked at HLI longer than Wescott.

However, it was Paul Wescott who was at the helm of Howell Labs, as it expanded its own corporate capabilities over four decades and brought other companies into the fold, as well.

How did Wescott go from practicing law to heading Howell Labs?

“It was a classic thing that happens — a new direction,” Wescott explained. “Some of my fellow investors said, ‘Why don’t you come and run the company?’ And, it seemed like a good idea, at the time. It’s turned out well.” Although, he readily acknowledges, with a chuckle, that he didn’t expect to be here this long.

“The company came to have a bunch of angel investors — Pete Howell principally, and Jack Ketcham and Ted Gibbons — of which I was one, who came in mostly in the early 1970s,” Wescott said. “The group controlled the company until 1995, when we formed the employee stock ownership program (ESOP), which now owns the company.”

It is obvious that Wescott is very proud of the fact that the employees now own the company. Asked what he is most proud of during his tenure, he didn’t hesitate, saying, “I think those of us still here and some who left are most proud that we were able to do the (employee) stock purchase and save the company. The other option of the angel investors was to sell to ‘somebody.’”

What else makes Paul Wescott proud, as he looks back over his years heading HLI?

“The second thing is that we were able, over time, to recruit new people who are good technically, so we can have a comfortable, internal transfer of leadership,” he said.

HLI hasn’t experienced any layoffs, since it purchased Microwave Techniques, Wescott said.

“Part of it is because we are an ESOP — we have kept people when things were slower than they should have been,” stated Wescott.

“This is a good place to work,” he said. “We pay well, we have excellent fringe benefits and, even though health insurance costs go up more and more and more, an ESOP itself generates value — it is, in itself, a pension plan.”

The outgoing CEO and president of HLI is also proud to state that HLI’s annual payroll is “over $2.5 million.”

“We put a lot back into the local economy,” Wescott said.

He is comfortable leaving the company he has led for 34 years, because he has great faith in his fellow longtime HLI employee, David Allen, to keep the business innovatively vibrant in the future.

Allen, who currently serves as chief operating officer and as a director of the corporation, has been with HLI since 1982, employed in a variety of positions including purchasing agent, production control, special projects manager and director of broadcast sales.

“Obviously, the company has grown a great deal,” Wescott said. “It was failing when I came, and it’s still here, and it’s been profitable for decades. Its prospects look good.”

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