Industry Pioneer Harold H. Powell Dies


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Philadelphia -- Harold H. Powell, founder and Chairman of the Board of Powell Electronics Inc., died Friday, March 21, in Miami, Fla.

Headquartered in his hometown of Philadelphia, Powell Electronics remains among America's largest and most successful independent, privately owned electronics distributors.

Harold Powell was the last of a generation of entrepreneurs that started, managed and grew their electronics distributorships into highly successful regional, then national, operations. Despite the overwhelming trends towards mergers over the past two decades in this business sector, Powell remained committed to maintaining a truly independent operation.

Powell was born in 1919 on a small farm in Elkton, Md., the sixth son of Bertha and John Powell. At 14, Powell was sent to George School in Newtown, Pa., where he discovered the Quaker ideals he so cherished throughout his life. At 17, he enrolled in Drexel College in Philadelphia where he studied commerce and engineering for three years. In 1940, he joined Sun Oil as a propane equipment serviceman, moved on to run a lathe at Westinghouse, then joined the Navy where he was sent to electronics school. Shortly thereafter he recognized an opportunity to buy and resell surplus government electronics. In 1946, a purchase of 150 surplus microamp meters for $100 and their rapid resale for $2.45 each marked the launch of Powell Electronics Inc. from Harold's apartment on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, the company moved to a storefront at 632 Arch Street, with its monthly rent of $65.

Business grew rapidly through the 40s and into the 50s, as new employees and new products were added. By 1954, the company's reputation had grown to the point where Bendix appointed Powell one of its first authorized distributors. It marked the beginning of a connector legacy that continues today.

By 1964, the company opened its first branches in Beltsville, Md. and Fayetteville, Tenn. The following year, the company expanded to Florida and to the West Coast. The company continued to grow as a regional and national distributor of connectors, switches and other electromechanical components and value-added assemblies. It currently has 12 branches throughout the country, 200 employees and generated $58 million in sales in 2002.

Powell retired from the presidency of the company in 1978, with Arthur Nannos, Harold's first employee, assuming that position and Harold moving up to Chairman of the Board, a position he retained until his death. Nannos served as president until his retirement in 1992. Mill Brown served as president until 1995, when he was succeeded by Ernie Schilling as the fourth president of the then 49-year old company.

Harold Powell is survived by his wife, Maria, a son, Bill, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Powell Electronics is one of the largest connector specialists in the industry. Powell offers the industry the broadest capabilities and the highest degree of service in value added connector distribution.

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