Roger L. Howe
The story of how Roger Howe, an Ohio farm boy, became a CEO, university philanthropist and Great Living Cincinnatian can best be summed up in this one word: fortuitous.
The first instance of fortuity for Roger was going to Miami University, the place where he would meet his wife Joyce and which would decades later, become the subject of much of his public service and their philanthropic focus. The next was when he was assigned to the Cincinnati sales office of the Boston paper company he worked for after graduation and where he reported to a “wonderful mentor” who went on to become CEO of that same company.
“He was transferred to the headquarters, I was assigned his management job,” said Roger. “I did that for six years and then I was also promoted to the headquarters.”
Roger left the company and returned to Cincinnati in 1970, where he purchased U.S. Precision Lens, a small optics company.
“I’d long had a desire to have my own business,” he said. Indeed, Roger already had experience owning his own business - he and a partner had a successful bicycle business on Miami’s campus in the 1950s. “Not for everyone but I liked the idea of working for myself. I wanted to build a business and have perhaps more control over my destiny than I might have otherwise.”
Under Roger’s leadership, U.S. Precision Lens grew to be a juggernaut in the optics world, expanding from a dozen employees to over 600 by 1986 and dominating production of video plastic/glass hybrid optics for every world maker of projection television systems. He sold the company to Corning, Inc., in 1986, remained as chairman and CEO until 1989, and was board chair until his retirement in 1997.
In 1977, in a then-uncommon move, Roger published a business philosophy - essentially, a five-part value statement. Part IV, Regarding Personal Performance, states in part: Our personal and corporate success requires that we not only adjust to change, but that we also help to bring it about.
To that end, Roger has given freely of himself to multiple corporate boards and charitable institutions. He served 47 years as a trustee of the Christ Hospital, including as chairman from 1989 to 1992. Today he remains a trustee of the Elizabeth Gamble Deaconess Home Association. He served 9 years on the Miami University board of trustees, 3 as chairman. And since 1992, Roger and Joyce have been laser-focused on helping Miami University students become better writers and communicators through their Howe Center for Writing Excellence.
“[Joyce and I] believe that excellent writing is the common thread within highly successful people,” said Roger. “Every good leader and CEO I’ve known is an excellent communicator with the written word. It is a powerful personal tool to take into the workplace.”
Here again, Roger walks the walk. He has published two books, including A Farm Kid’s Journey, a memoir for his descendants. The other, a history of U.S. Precision Lens, shares a name with his unofficial motto.
“That would be doing interesting things with interesting people in interesting places,” said Roger.