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Tinius Olsen: The Next Generation

Former ASTM Chairman Jay Millane Retires; Hands Reins to Next Generation of Family-Owned Business

by Maryann Gorman

ASTM members who attended Committee Week meetings in 1991 probably remember the amiable presence of John A. (Jay) Millane, chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors that year. The president of Tinius Olsen Testing Machine Company, Millane has been a trusted colleague and friend of many an ASTM staffer and member, especially those of Committee E28 on Mechanical Testing, of which he has been a very active leader and participant since its establishment in 1969.

After completing 30 years at the helm of Tinius Olsen, in Willow Grove, Pa., Millane decided late last year to retire from that post and pass leadership on to other members of the family that has owned this business since its foundation in 1880. His successor in the position of president will be his cousin, C. Robert Tait, Jr. Tait will be joined in leadership by the next generation, his son C. Robert Tait, III, who, as vice president of business development, will assume responsibility for sales, marketing and service operations. The younger Tait is also a member of ASTM Committee E28 on Mechanical Testing and serves as Task Group Chairman of E28.01.01, Force Verification of Testing Machines.

ASTM staff and members who have grown accustomed to Millane’s presence needn’t worry, however. Millane has elected to have his cake and eat it too. While he will enjoy the benefits of retirement, Millane and the Tinius Olsen board have agreed that he will maintain the same level of involvement he has had with ASTM all these years, providing invaluable expertise in standardization to the benefit of both Committee E28 and Tinius Olsen. “It was a difficult decision to make,” he says. “But being able to keep my hands in certain parts of the business helps. I don’t think I could just walk away and leave it. But there comes a time in your life when you need to let the next generation of leaders step up and learn their responsibilities.”

If new Vice President of Business Development Bob Tait, III, is any indication, the next generation has been taught well by family history. “There’s a mutually symbiotic relationship,” Tait says of the beneficial ties between family and business. “The family commitment stabilizes the business and the business serves as a significant focal point for the family. One couldn’t exist without the other in its present form.”

In a time when mergers and globalization have set the trend for testing-machine manufacturers, Tinius Olsen has remained successful in its position as a medium-sized, privately-owned company based in the United States. Says Tait, “I view remaining a medium-size manufacturer as a positive. Large enough that a single misstep will not jeopardize the future of the organization, yet small enough to react and adjust to the ever-changing marketplace. The advantage of being our size and privately held is that it allows for management to balance short term profitability with long term viability.” Tinius Olsen hasn’t deluded itself with the romantic notion that their merits as a family-owned business will see them through industry changes. The company has distributors around the world, and recently made its England-based manufacturer, Hounsfield Test Equipment Ltd., the European Division of Tinius Olsen.”

Another factor contributing to Tinius’ success, say Millane and Tait, is the company’s involvement in the development of standards for the testing machine industry. Millane answers enthusiastically that there’s “no question” that Tinius Olsen’s involvement in standardization has assisted the company’s long-term stability and growth. Tait agrees, citing Tinius’ success as the first universal testing machine manufacturer to successfully complete the accreditation process with the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) as an example of the pervasive influence of participation in ASTM’s consensus process. “Our organization’s participation in ASTM has developed a mind-set throughout our employees. There are benefits to be gained from embracing the standardization process, which include listening, learning, and compromising, and understanding that there is no substitute for technical superiority. And these have become ingrained ideas that have permeated everyone in the organization,” Tait says. “Once you have that attitude, it can be applied to many different areas within an organization. Because of the Olsen organization’s close involvement with ASTM that spans decades, we merely applied that mind-set to the new quality doctrines, and as a result, the accreditation process was much easier.”

But talk to Millane and Tait long enough, and you’ll understand the centrality of business-oriented “family values” to Tinius Olsen’s staying power. “The way we maintain private ownership is the relationship between the family and the business,” Tait says. “The reason we’ve been able to stay in the Philadelphia region is the nucleus of exceptionally talented and committed people we have in the organization. The family members are not the only ones with 40-plus years of service. We will continue to be as successful as our fellow employees are willing to make us.”

To Jay Millane from ASTM, all the best wishes for a happy retirement, and thank you for staying a little longer with the ASTM family. And to Bob Tait, Jr., and Bob Tait, III, best wishes as you take Tinius Olsen into the future. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

(left) With a portrait of their company’s founder, Tinius Olsen, over their shoulders, senior executives involved in the passing of the guard at the company pose with Olsen’s first-ever universal testing machine, the Little Giant. From left: C. Robert Tait, III, new vice president of business development; John A. (Jay) Millane, newly retired former president; and C. Robert Tait, Jr., the company’s new president.