After the wood has been cut, dried, sanded and inspected, Linda Anderson gathers the wood stirrers and packages them for shipping at the Hardwood Products plant in Guilford in this 2002 file photo. Credit: Jerry Swope

An owner of the largest employer in Piscataquis County has sued his cousin and fellow co-owner over a deep disagreement about the direction of the manufacturing business that has been in their family for generations — Hardwood Products Company LP of Guilford — and that could be sold to a new owner depending on the outcome of the suit.

In a complaint filed late this week in Cumberland County Superior Court, Timothy Templet said that he and his cousin, John Cartwright, have deadlocked over how to continue operating a parent company that now has 550 workers and more than $55 million in annual revenue across its two different entities. Those entities are Hardwood Products Co., which makes materials such as popsicle sticks and skewers, and Puritan Medical Products Co., a global producer of medical swabs.

While Templet wants to invest more in the business and consider outside offers to buy it, Cartwright has not been open to those changes, according to Templet’s lawsuit.

Because they cannot reconcile their disagreements, Templet’s complaint said, he is asking a judge to dissolve the ownership structure of the company and oversee the company’s sale to a qualified new owner.

Templet, who lives in Cumberland County, has also asked the judge to appoint the company’s general manager to serve as an interim custodian with the power to break deadlocks and to ensure that the business keeps operating while a new ownership arrangement is worked out, according to the lawsuit.

Credit: Stuart Hedstrom | Piscataquis Observer

Cartwright, who lives in Guilford, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment at another business with which he is involved.

Templet has proposed making investments in the company that include higher wages and improvements to its manufacturing facilities and computer systems, but Cartwright, who has equal control over the company’s decisions, has opposed those changes, according to Templet’s complaint.

The complaint said that capital investments are especially needed to meet the “growing demand” at Puritan Medical Products. It also said that Cartwright essentially terminated a computer systems upgrade even after the company had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on it.

The two partners have also disagreed about whether to keep the business in the family. While Templet is open to considering outside offers to purchase it, Cartwright has refused to consider any such offers and rejected “an attractive offer from an investment fund which would have ensured the businesses remained in Guilford for years to come,” according to the complaint.

After Cartwright walked out of the partners’ most recent meeting in May 2018, the two cousins “no longer speak, no longer make joint decisions, and are essentially unable even to be in the same room together,” the complaint said. “The businesses continue to function but are handicapped by deadlock. Absent prompt judicial intervention to secure new ownership that is able to make decisions and move these businesses forward, their future is at risk.”

In the meantime, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Terry Young has been overseeing the company and acting as a go-between for Cartwright and Templet.

Credit: Jerry Swope

Templet is also seeking a preliminary injunction that would allow Young, who has worked with the company for more than 20 years, to break deadlocks between him and Cartwright. The company “will suffer irreparable harm if injunctive relief is not granted and the ownership deadlock continues to fester,” according to motion.

The roots of Hardwood Products Co. go back to 1919. Its current partnership was established in 1976, but that partnership is currently slated to expire in 2026 under the terms of a partnership agreement, according to the complaint.

No hearings have yet been scheduled in the case, according to Templet’s attorney, Sigmund Schutz of Portland.