2017 Business Renewal Finalist

Founder's ethic and grit carry on at Western Precision Products

There was no running water and just one electrical outlet in the home that Howard Mullins grew up in in southern Indiana. The family was very poor, and from a young age, Howard had to work to support them.

“He never had much. They had to go without a lot,” Howard’s oldest son, Bill Mullins, said.

In 1961, Howard graduated on a Friday and went to work full-time the following Monday. Eventually, he settled in McMinnville, where he owned a machine shop and worked to provide for his family. In 1989, Howard and a friend combined their businesses to start Western Precision Products.

From humble beginnings, Howard created a family business that still reflects its founder’s ethic and grit.

Howard was proud of hard work, and it left a lasting impact. Bill and his brother Jerry, worked when they were growing up. Both had to pay their way through college.

After graduating, Bill worked as a sales manager at a metal distributor in Los Angeles. His dad was a customer, so he wasn’t surprised when he picked up the phone one day and Howard was on the line.

“I just bought out my partner,” Howard said. “There’s just one thing. I don’t want to work.”

“Wouldn’t a guy think of that before he bought the company?” Bill wondered.

“I’d like for you to come work for us,” Howard said.

“No way,” Bill said. “We’ve always been close. I don’t want to ruin it.”

The conversation got heated, and Howard hung up. Twenty minutes later, he called back.

“I really want you to consider it,” Howard said.

“The answer is still no,” Bill replied.

Howard knew Bill was the right person to lead the company. He persisted until Bill gave in. When Bill started as vice president in 1997, Western Precision had 26 employees and one shop. Today, there are 80 employees at three Portland-area locations.

Vice president Jerry has worked at Western Precision his whole life, and understands the new wave of manufacturing. He’s directed enterprising capital investments to position the company for the future.

The Mullins brothers are 11 years apart, and Bill said he feels more anxious about taking financial risk. It’s the same concern his dad felt when he asked Bill to take over so he could enjoy retirement.

“In our industry … if you pause, your competition will pass you,” Bill said.

Bill intends to make a different exit than when his dad abruptly left the company. He is preparing a transparent transition. Bill said Jerry is the natural choice to be the next leader.

Meanwhile the third generation has also entered the family business. Bill’s daughter Maddie Mullins, 20, is a junior studying business at Oregon State. She has worked for the company the past two summers.

“I get to see how our morals and values at home apply to the company as well,” Maddie said.

Treating employees like family is the way it was intended.

“That’s really what my dad set the company up to be,” Bill said. “We have carried on those traditions.”