The Next Generation Takes the Lead

Maximum Instruments soon outgrew Gordon and Betty White’s basement in Dover, Massachusetts, and moved five miles away, to Natick. Gordon’s son, Ken, finished business school and worked elsewhere for a few years, but then returned in 1974 and bought the company from his father.  

 

Production Floor
Natick, MA 1983

Ken says, “My Dad always told people that I purchased it with a ‘lot of paper, none of it green.’” Gordon was in his late 60s at this point and according to Ken became the company’s “Engineer Emeritus,” but the founder remained very hands-on on the production side.

Ken’s cousin, Bruce, had worked in the basement workshop from the beginning on the assembly of various components, but he took a job on the West Coast with Delta Steamship Lines. “Dad needed somebody in production,” says Ken. “He was looking for a trainable high-school kid. When Ralph Bouzan applied for the job, someone else was hired, but they didn’t last more than a few days. Dad called Ralph and said, ‘Do you know what time it is? It’s 8:15 and you’re late for work.’” Ralph stayed more than two decades with the company, at first doing all the instrument assembly and then supervising three to five people as production manager.” 


  Ralph Bouzan
 1988

Maximum’s business model for its instruments was to sell mostly to stocking distributors, along with some sales through direct advertising in publications such as Yankee magazine, a digest-size publication with a unique New England-based readership. One of the strongest dealers was the business owned by Robert White, Gordon’s brother. Robert E. White Instruments, Inc., in Boston, distributed, sold, and serviced nautical instruments. The Whites also owned and published Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book, which was a natural place to advertise Maximum Instruments. Gordon’s nephew Ridge worked for his father and remembers Christmas seasons when they would place orders for 30 to 40 Maximum Instruments in a week.

Most sales of instruments were to areas where yachtsmen were located, largely on the East and West Coasts. The Northeast was the strongest market. Not far away, in Medford, Mass., was another stocking distributor, Imtra Corporation, which would purchase Maximum some years later.

During this period, the company diversified and began developing a new compass line. Gordon patented a compass you could mount either horizontally or vertically, and they were sold by mail order at full price. However, not every Gordon White product made it to the production line. He invented a remote-reading compass, but it was too complicated for the company to produce.

 Maximum Polyaxial Compass
 1977

In time, it became clear that building and selling two different lines of product was too challenging for the small company, and the better cash flow came through the weather instruments. In 1977, Ken White sold the compass line to Danforth, along with the machinery and tools to mold it. Forty years later, Ken says going into the compass business might have been a bad idea, yet it was part of the family legacy.

When asked to summarize Maximum’s keys to success in its first 10 years, Ken White offers the following list:

            1. Gordon White’s product ingenuity
            2. The esprit de corps of a small company
            3. Merchandizing well without discounting
            4. Good products with a five-year warranty

Ken remained at the helm of Maximum until the beginning of 1979, when he sold it to Jim Brooks, a former employee with the means to buy and invest in the company’s growth. The sale marked the end of the White family’s ownership of Maximum, although Gordon White continued to consult. Under Jim’s leadership, the company was poised for new growth in the ‘80s.


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