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Dyke sells Bushmaster Firearms

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Posted: Friday, April 21, 2006 1:00 am

Windham native Dick Dyke, owner of Bushmaster Firearms, Inc. in North Windham, sold his 28-year-old gun manufacturing company last Thursday for an undisclosed sum.

The new owner is Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., a company that has $18 billion in investment assets. Dyke, 72, will remain involved in the business as a member of the board of directors.

Dyke said he sold Bushmaster, which did $65 million in business last year, for the good of the company, his family and the stockholders.

"Bushmaster has the potential of becoming a $200-million-a-year company. For the Dyke family to lead that, a little voice told me that it was just time to turn over the reins for the benefit of everyone," Dyke said. "I just know a company like Cerberus has the ability to do the things Dick Dyke doesn't have the means to do."

The new owners say they are dedicated to keeping Bushmaster and its 95 employees at the Windham Business Park, located near the Raymond town line. Dyke said he owns the park, and Bushmaster has signed a five-year lease for the property. Bushmaster's second manufacturing facility, located in Lake Havasu City, Nevada, will also stay open.

Little will change for Bushmaster's employees. John DeSantis will continue as the chief executive officer, and Richard Thurston and Allen Faraday will continue in their current roles as senior executives of Bushmaster. Bushmaster's workforce will see little in the way of change as well.

"We have very good people who work here and Cerberus knows that," Faraday said. "Having lost Dick as a boss and having a new owner has created some anxiety but the more they get to know the new employer, the more that nervousness is settling down. There are no plans for change. The goal is to grow and the new owners are dedicated to that."

Faraday said Cerberus usually doesn't invest in companies the size of Bushmaster. But, Faraday said, "Cerberus is excited about Bushmaster's potential. They hope to double or triple sales in the next five or six years. And we believe those are realistic goals."

Cerberus is not new to the weapons scene. The company, which Dyke describes as a hedge fund that buys previously established companies in hopes of growing them, has many contacts in the military logistics field. However, this is Cerberus' first foray into firearms. It already supplies military bases and provides logistical support for the military.

Dyke, a well-known entrepreneur in the Lakes Region, has started more than 40 businesses during his career. Bushmaster is one of his most successful ventures. Dyke bought Bushmaster 28 years ago, moved it to Portland and then to Windham and built it into a worldwide leader in rifles and pistols. The company makes a popular AR-15 model as well as an M-16 model used by military and police forces around the world. The guns are not recommended for big game hunters because of their lack of power, but they are extremely accurate, Faraday said.

When Dyke purchased the company in 1978, Bushmaster provided small-arm survival pistols used by Air Force pilots when they went down in combat. Dyke turned the company into a top-tier gun manufacturer specializing in target shooting and military applications. While Bushmaster has a storied history, recently the company was involved in lawsuits following the "DC Sniper" case, in which a Bushmaster AR-15, known for its long-range accuracy, was used.

Dyke, owner of Charlie's on the Causeway Restaurant in Naples, said he plans to return to Windham from his Las Vegas, Nevada home in mid-May. He has secured office space in the former Cumberland County Federal Teacher's Credit Union building on Route 35 in North Windham. He and his son Jeff are already looking at new investments around the state.

"For a very long time, I've been focused on Bushmaster, growing that company and watching it bloom, Dyke said. "Now, I want my family and me to take our good fortune and get around the state and continue to invest, helping small businesses and looking for investment opportunities."

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