Oct 6, 2016
Manufacturing’s Makers and Shakers, Richard May – O. C. White
pro-zoom-6-5-esd-safe-ultimate-digital-trinocular-microscope

O.C. White Pro-Zoom 6.5 ESD Safe Ultimate Digital Trinocular Microscope

Richard L. May, president of O. C. White, began working at the company at around the age of ten-years-old sweeping floors for 25 cents per hour. He eventually became owner of the company (founded by O. C. White in the early 1800s), which his father, a lighting sales representative bought from the O. C. White family in 1964. “I basically did everything,” said Richard. “I started as a sweeper, then worked in the machine shop, painting department, and eventually shipping and order processing. I just followed my father into the business.” Recognized as the heir apparent, he trained in almost every major department. He learned the selling and marketing part of the business by accompanying his father on road trips to trade shows. The company’s rich history, however, began before the advent of electric lighting. “Our first light fixtures were gas,” says Richard. “We were using black iron pipe, like what’s used in the plumbing industry, because we were sending gas through the pipes.”

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O. C. White’s collection of vintage lights fills their new museum

The company shifted throughout history and has continually met the lighting requirements and demands of the times. “We evolved throughout our more than 130-year-old history by creating new technology, producing exceptional products and surpassing expectations,” said Richard. Their products have served numerous customers such as during WWI when O. C. White provided specialized arms to hold resonator signaling devices. As a result of their service, the company was awarded a certificate from the government for helping to defeat the enemy. They also provided lighting during WWII to illuminate charts on ships. From the 1930s to the 1960s the company’s lighting focus shifted to the growing industrial machine lighting market and then the fast-growing electronics industry. “My father changed this company over radically from machine lighting, still a good line, to more of what we do today—magnifiers and inspection systems—to serve the visual needs of the new industry,” said Richard. Eventually, he took the helm after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in management and marketing from Babson College, a well-respected marketing and business school. His valuable company knowledge also helped him to seamlessly move into heading the business. “Knowing our roots was tremendously helpful to me,” said Richard. “We never deviated within reason from who we are. I clearly understand our customer and what they are looking for as far as quality and value and use that knowledge when designing.” His knowledge has also helped the company face today’s challenge of continually innovating. “We’re always working to be the best in the world at a certain price level by continuously improving quality and adding cutting edge technology,” said Richard. “Even with China’s inroads into the market, we’ve been successful at keeping up our quality. We sell on quality, which is extremely important to us.”

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Richard May with the 4th generation ownership (in training)

And company roots and tradition run deep with Richards’s sons Rich Jr. and Andrew as well. Educated in the business and also recipients of Bachelor of Science degrees the brothers started working for O.C. White at a young age and now work as company executives. Just as Richard’s father helped him to learn the business, he’s also doing the same for his two sons so that they’ll be well-prepared for the coming changes. “I’m working the hardest I ever have,” says Richard. “I’m on the road with Andrew introducing him to customers, distributors and rep teams, and working with him at trade shows and national sales meetings—while Rich Jr. runs our marketing department and sales support team. I’m grooming them both to be my successors and valuable assets to the firm.” It’s important to Richard that his sons understand the basics of the company and remember what O. C. White has been successful at doing, while also steering them toward constantly increasing the company’s market share and diversity of products. “I want a larger umbrella for them to work under,” says Richard. “It’s a multi-step process—ingraining in them the difference between us and our competition, keeping an eye on the mission—producing the highest quality product at a reasonable price and not being dependent on any particular market.”

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Green-Lite® ESD-Safe 4-Diopter LED Magnifier – American Flag

The company has had continual growth under Richard’s management and continues to grow. He attributes some of the upswing to the resurgence of interest in American-made products and to their new LED designs for industrial machines. “One of our newer products is our line of LED machine lighting,” says Richard. “It’s a huge industry. Tech CNCs [Computer Numeric Control—automation of machine tools] have to set the tools—heads, cutters—they have to program the software. Humans setting up still need good lighting.” Richard believes we’re headed back to our industrial supply roots as markets change and distributors consolidate. “Made in America has become more important again, especially in the industrial markets,” says Richard. “With machine shops and CNCs, if you’re made in America, you’re on the top of the heap. There are still a ton of machines out there and machines that need to be built and lit properly.” As some studies indicate a return of manufacturing to America, i.e. onshoring, like other manufacturers—Richard is concerned about the availability of a well-trained manufacturing workforce. “It’s a real problem,” says Richard. “We have a huge hole of knowledge in the manufacturing sector and nobody’s coming to replace that. You need to have leaders who have an agenda to make manufacturing come back. Without that plan and effort, it’s not going to happen on its own.” O.C. White has also been working on displaying their antique American-made lights for their museum. Prized by many, vintage O.C. White lights have become highly collectable and you’ll find them in restaurants and hotels as well as for sale online.

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Vintage O.C. White light

“Ralph Lauren’s design team actually stopped into our museum while they were visiting the Brimfield Antique Fair,” said Richard. The company has an enduring history and foundation to stand upon and plans to continue providing “quality lighting at a reasonable price” way into the future and with the help of the new generations to come ensure the proud legacy of the O. C. White Company (est. 1883).

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