Richard Tasker '68 and his Friends Knew it Could be Done Better
Richard Tasker '68 and his Friends Knew it Could be Done Better
"Surround yourself with qualified people who can get answers that you don't have. If you are considering manufacturing, do it here in the States. This country needs it, and we are proof that you can still have an American success story."
He Started American Sensor Technologies in His Basement in 1999 and Now Sells His Sensors Worldwide
Richard Tasker '68 and his friends knew it could be done better. "We all had some dissatisfaction with the way things were done at our previous employers," he says. "We felt that too much of business today is cutthroat and all about price. We wanted to create a company where we worked with the customer and where both clients and employees would be well treated."
So in 1999, Tasker, Karmjit Sidhu and Michael Eldredge started American Sensor Technologies in his basement, funded with $250,000 from their own savings and from "friends and friends of friends." The new company 's philosophy was to make a high quality, high performance product and to "treat our customers and employees like we would want to be treated," says Tasker.
The company, located in Mount Olive, N.J., makes pressure sensors that measure oil pressure using a patented "Krystal Bond" technology. Pressure sensors are in great demand, says Tasker, since they are used in a wide range of applications, from oil and gas wells to air conditioning, refrigeration, hydraulics, trash compactors and some types of automobiles.
"We are not a niche industry," says Tasker, who is president and CEO. "Our market encompasses hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States alone, and we sell our product worldwide." An engineer by profession, he has several sensor patents to his name; he also designed the computer power supply that was used on the MIR Space Lab and which has been in continuous use on Space Shuttles since 1995. He previously worked in the pressure sensor and electronics industry before deciding to become an entrepreneur.
From the beginning, the three decided to each concentrate on their own strengths as they developed the business. Sidhu, who is the vice president of business development, focused on sales, marketing and new product concepts. Eldredge, the executive vice president, CFO and secretary, handled the financing, and Tasker was the engineer and designer. "When you start a business, you have to realize that you can't do everything," emphasizes Tasker. "You need to surround yourself with good people. We were all fine with sharing the load and trusting each other's expertise. This created good synergy and has allowed us to grow as planned."
Tasker says the company had "slow steady climb" from the basement, to 35 to 50 employees, to a company with 125 employees in three locations. He credits their commitment to customer service and their treatment of employees as keys to their success.
"The product is definitely needed," he explains. "But, the reason clients come to us and stay with us is because we treat them right. We take the time to find out what the customer wants, what his needs are, and then we work to give them a solution. This product is very adaptable so we can take the extra time to customize it to a client's wishes. We produce a high performance, high quality product and we don't skimp on quality. We have found that clients don't mind paying a bit more if the product is good, and they are treated well. There is nothing new about this approach, but in recent years, it seems a lot of companies have forgotten basic customer service. Our mission statement actually affirms that we will treat the customer with respect and fairness, and that mindset has made a difference."
Tasker says the company is "recognized around the world" as a source for high quality, high performance pressure sensors. "We sell worldwide to a wide range of customers in a wide range of industries," he adds. "We're currently the only company that is providing pressure sensors for the upcoming hydrogen market."
In keeping with its philosophy, the company gives employees comprehensive benefits, including health insurance, a company-matched 401K program, profit sharing, sick time and vacation plans, optional flex time, as well as smaller, personal touches that make the workplace seem more like family than work.
"We treat employees like we would want to be treated," says Tasker. "We provide good benefits, but we also do the little things, like have cake every month for all that month's birthdays, host holiday parties, and if we exceed our quota for the quarter, we have a pizza or sub party—which we've been able to do every quarter since 2001. We also recognize service milestones and have a bulletin board with a photo and mini profile of every employee. It illustrates our organization's structure, but does it with a personal touch approach."
So perhaps it was not surprising that when the economy tanked in 2008, the company avoided layoffs by asking employees to take rolling furloughs. "We kept them all employed and we actually still made a small profit in 2009," says Tasker, who is president and CEO. "We ended 2009 with some extra cash and rewarded our employees for their loyalty with bonuses in early 2010." The company has since bounced back to even greater sales than before the downturn. This year is "going like gangbusters," he says. "We planned for modest 22 percent growth, and are currently running 10 percent beyond that."
And it is also not surprising that the company has received numerous awards: New Jersey's Finest (The 50 fastest growing companies in New Jersey) for 2004, 2005 and 2007; Deloitte Technology Fast 50 in New Jersey for 2004, 2005 and 2006; Deloitte Technology Fast 500 USA for 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009; and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for New Jersey in 2007.
Tasker has the following advice for anyone considering launching their own company. "You need more than a good idea—plan for how you will put it into practice, where you will get your startup financing, and where your clients may come from. Surround yourself with qualified people who can get answers that you don't have. If you are considering manufacturing, do it here in the States. This country needs it, and we are proof that you can still have an American success story."
Written by Crystal Ward Kent '78.