A Conversation With William Howard Jr., Houston Plating and Coatings

William Howard’s Houston Plating and Coatings checked in as the No. 1 liquid and powder coating operation in the 2019 Products Finishing Top Shops Benchmarking Survey.
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William Howard’s Houston Plating and Coatings (HPC) checked in as the No. 1 liquid and powder coating operation in the 2019 Products Finishing Top Shops Benchmarking Survey, but it also performs plating and other finishing operations for the gas and oil industry. After a career in accounting, Howard bought HPC more than 15 years ago when he assembled a group of investors to acquire the company. He then began adding services and facilities to meet the energy industry’s forecasted growth.

PF: What led you to become an owner in the finishing industry after a successful career in accounting?

WH: From my days in graduate school, I have always thought it would be interesting to become involved with a small- to medium-sized business, and I put together a game plan to help it grow. The demise of Arthur Andersen, which also eliminated most of my retirement income, pushed me to actually give it a try; 30 years of debits and credits is enough for one lifetime. Because my background is with a service business, I thought participating in another service industry — which the finishing industry certainly is — would be a good fit.

PF: What was the top reason for turning HPC around?

WH: Being in the right place at the right time certainly helped, but we put together a game plan that dramatically expanded our services and capabilities that was more aligned with what we determined our customer base needed. That enabled HPC to become a one-stop shop for the majority of finishing requirements for our energy manufacturing customers.

PF: HPC recently became one of the first U.S. finishers to acquire near-zero emission coating booths. Why is that important to you?

WH: Air emission limits are arbitrary, difficult to understand and very hard to precisely measure. It is a real relief to know that we will never have to worry about exceeding permit limits which could subject us to considerable fines, penalties and even closure. These new paint booths also allow us to continue to expand without having to add additional facilities and, of course, doing something that is good for the environment is also a big plus.

William Howard standing with a golf club

William Howard’s Houston Plating and Coatings checked in as the No. 1 liquid and powder coating operation in the 2019 Products Finishing Top Shops Benchmarking Survey.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

WH: “Go ugly early, if there is potential bad news” was given to me by the head of a real estate investment department who is also a personal friend.

PF: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

WH: I worked for my father in the construction business while I was in high school and college, and I learned that I should stay in school and finish my education. I wasn’t particularly good at it anyway

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?

WH: A university that promoted conservative values.

PF: What was your first car and what is your dream car?

WH: My first car was a 1950 Ford that my father and I retrieved from a junk yard. I have been driving BMWs lately and they are everything one could want in an automobile.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?

WH: Ronald Reagan said “it’s amazing what you can get accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Making sure we have the right people in the right places has been critical to our success and my No. 1 priority.

PF: What did you want to be when you grew up?

WH: A professional baseball player.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?

WH: Colorado.

PF: What organization or company, aside from your own, do you most admire?   

WH: Arthur Andersen and Exxon.

PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?

WH: President of the Texans to fire coach Bill O’Brien.

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?

WH: A long workout in the morning of cardio, weights and stretching, and either sailing on Galveston Bay where I was raised or golfing in the afternoon.

PF: Best way to keep competitive edge?

WH: Staying physically fit and up-to-date on industry issues.

PF: Personal heroes?

WH: Ronald Reagan and Dennis Prager.

PF: What’s your secret talent that no one knows about?

WH: I doubt that there are any.

PF: How do you motivate people?

WH: Expect their best and give them the latitude to function without micromanaging and reward positive results financially.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?

WH: Competition produces plenty of motivation, but I like to think that I have always strived to do the very best at whatever I am doing.

PF: Four greatest passions?

WH: God, family, the company and golf, which I started very late and wish I had started much earlier.

PF: If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

WH: Playing a musical instrument.

PF: What was the first thing you bought with your own money?

WH: My first car, which had to be completely refurbished.

PF: Most unique office décor?

WH: The 13-foot steel sculpture in our lobby, which represents the reason for the company’s existence.

PF: Best business decision?

WH: Buying Houston Plating.

PF: Worst business decision?

WH: Overexpanding during the boom years.

PF: Biggest management myth?

WH: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There is always room for improvement.

PF: Do you collect anything?

WH: I have collected modern fiction for many years and have first editions (many signed) of the majority of the winners of the four major literary awards.

PF: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

WH: Do not get caught up with irrational exuberance.

PF: Word that best describes you:

WH: Consistent.