Any family-owned business that can last 50 years deserves to be celebrated, so it was no surprise that Newtown’s Sonics & Materials Inc. threw a bash last month marking its half century of manufacturing as a supplier of ultrasonic welding systems and ultrasonic liquid processors.
And it was no surprise that Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal was on hand for the April 5 ceremony along with state Attorney General William Tong. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy issued a statement noting Sonics’ “commitment to training the next generation of students in the ultrasonics field. Their hard work goes a long way in ensuring Connecticut manufacturing remains competitive.”
Past anniversaries have resulted in testimonials from a number of Connecticut officials, including former Gov. Dannel Malloy, that hang on the lobby wall at the firm’s 53 Church Hill Road headquarters.
“It was nice to have them here,” acknowledged President Lauren Soloff. “But our feeling is that they should be excited to come here — to see the diversity of our workforce and get a real understanding of what it takes to last 50 years.”
Her father, Robert S. Soloff, founded the company and remains its CEO. Lauren’s ascension from executive vice president to president of both Sonics and its Newtown-based subsidiary QSonica was announced at the April 5 luncheon. The elder Soloff started the company in Danbury in 1969.
“I was young and foolish,” Robert Soloff deadpanned about the company’s beginnings. Having received his first patent, for the ultrasonic method of welding thermoplastic parts in 1962, he’d worked for several years as a mechanical engineer before “I realized that I was never going to get anywhere working for another firm.
“I came home one day and said that I was starting my own company. I had no idea what was involved with that, but I felt that I’d do what I had to do to make that leap.”
The assembly technique originally patented by Soloff today is used across a number of manufacturing sectors, including the automotive, aviation, medical device, electronics, appliance and battery industries.
In addition to welding systems, Sonics’ other ultrasonic product lines, including liquid processors, are employed throughout research facilities, hospitals, laboratories and universities, as well as in the nanotechnology, cannabis, biotechnology and DNA sequencing fields.
Privately held, Sonics does not disclose its revenue figures, which now include significant income from overseas markets. Lauren Soloff said Sonics does roughly half of its business in Asia. Robert Soloff demurred when asked if there was any way to quantify how successful the company is beyond saying, “We’re slightly improving each year.”
Employing 85 workers at its 65,000-square-foot facility — which maintains the same footprint it had when the firm moved there in 1998 — the Soloffs agreed that it was something of a given that Lauren would eventually succeed her father at the Sonics helm.
“I pretty much grew up here,” Lauren said. Although she graduated from American University in 1991 with a law degree, and practiced in both New York and Connecticut for several years, “Over time, it made sense to shift back to this business,” she said.
“It was the prudent thing to do,” Robert said of the timing of her promotion. “She’s been involved here for 25 years. She has the respect of all the employees here. It was the right time.”
Asked if this meant he’d be spending less time at the office, they both said “No” with a laugh. While admitting that he might like to do some traveling, the elder Soloff noted that, as the CEO of a company he founded, it can be difficult to let go entirely.
Both Soloffs regularly journey overseas to meet with existing and potential customers. Lauren said its foreign customers hail from over 125 nations. Whenever a foreign contingent comes to Newtown, Sonics makes sure to fly the flag of the visitors’ country from its pole. A literal “hall of flags” displays over 30 such items.
“Connecticut is a great place to do business,” Robert declared. “We have a terrific diversity of people. There’s all the intellectual stimulation and services that are available. We get calls all the time from places like Virginia, Mississippi, trying to get us to relocate.”
“But the costs of trying to find the right people to replace our skilled workforce would be too much,” Lauren added. “So we pay a little more in taxes, but we don’t have those costs of developing the necessary skill sets with all new people.”
Their employees were born in places that include England, France, Brazil, Thailand, India and Vietnam.
Asked about the reasons Sonic has made it to 50 years — and looks poised to add plenty more — the Soloffs responded in unison: “Great management!”