Contemporary Controls bids a fond farewell to Joe Stasiek, who retired from his role as sales manager this past June. Joe was part of the Contemporary Controls' family for more than 21 years, and he will be greatly missed by coworkers and customers alike. Together with president and founder, George Thomas, Joe was instrumental in the company's development and growth in the building automation industry. He understood the value of e-commerce and led the company in creating an online product marketplace.
We sat down with Joe and George Thomas to talk about Joe's experiences at Contemporary Controls as well as his 50+ years in the industrial and building automation industries.
Q: How did you and George Thomas meet?
Joe: We met at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1967. We were both going for our BSEE.
Joe received his BSEE in 1970 and George received his BSEE in 1971.
George: Joe would advise, "Just make sure the units come out correctly in the end." I always remembered that advice, and it came in handy in my career because it begged the question, "What units will your answer have? What is the problem asking you to find?"
Joe: If your results required bit/sec, you'd better make sure your units come out that way.
Q: You graduated with a BSEE, and then began your career as a sales engineer. Why did you go directly into sales?
Joe: I had never heard of the term sales engineer; I thought it sounded diametrically opposed. But I went into sales because to me I enjoyed the challenge of working with people—because people are always different and unique with different outcomes. To me, interacting with people, and solving the puzzle of what people want and what they need presented a much more interesting challenge than figuring out the resistance between two pads on a PCB. I wanted that challenge.
Q: Talk about your journey and how that led you to Contemporary Controls.
Joe: I'd been working in the industrial automation industry since college graduation.
Modicon, which today is part of Schneider Electric, developed the first programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and in 1976, I jumped at the opportunity to sell PLCs at Modicon. I began in Lansing, Indiana where I supported steel companies, such as Republic Steel. Back then, all of the client networking was in-person through office visits, dinners, and golf outings.
The PLC demo equipment I brought to companies stood about 6-feet tall and was super heavy. I loaded the equipment in the back of my company car—a station wagon—and had to haul it into client sites.
Then I transferred to Peoria, servicing the farm industry, including John Deere and Caterpillar. All the while George and I knew each other, we worked in the same industry and knew the same people, we had the same "friends." In fact, after George founded Contemporary Controls, he worked on some projects in Peoria while I was there, and he gave me a reference for my next job when I was ready for a change. Eventually, I was living and working in Downers Grove when a mutual colleague told George that I was in the market for a new job.
George: Our mutual friend told me that I couldn't afford Joe, but we worked it out.
Joe joined Contemporary Controls in 2002.
Joe: At that time, the business was in programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Contemporary Controls was doing very well with ARCNET and our ARC Control product line.
At a trade show for Instrument Society of America (currently the International Society for Automation) George approached one of our biggest customers at a trade show and asked them "what if Contemporary Controls makes an embedded server that converts ARCNET to Ethernet?" And a new, thriving product was born—the AI-SRVR which provided connectivity between an ARCNET network and an Ethernet network. And we were the main supplier.
Q: Tell us about Contemporary Controls' change in focus from industrial automation to building automation.
Joe: When I joined in 2002, we had an exceptional business supplying ARCNET server that interfaced ARCNET and Ethernet networks. But things were beginning to migrate to Ethernet, and it was clear that ARCNET was dying. As companies migrated to Ethernet, they were dropping ARCNET and we were losing our interface business.
During that time, the rapid acceptance of Industrial Ethernet as a fieldbus replacement created the need for the CTRLink® family of Industrial Ethernet products which today features products, such as unmanaged and diagnostic switches, media converters, and IP routers.
Joe: We went to a building automation show because one of our biggest customers was going to be there. We recognized an opportunity, and from there, George and I decided to move into building controls. BACnet was a big leap for us. Like George, my domain was in industrial automation, we'd need to get all new "friends." But we learned it together.
In 2007, Contemporary Controls introduced the BASremote, a family of BACnet-compliant products that not only connected to Ethernet networks but could interface with common sensor and actuator devices as the company proved that taking Ethernet down to the device-level was possible. In 2008, the company introduced the BASrouter, a BACnet/IP to BACnet MS/TP router and became active in BACnet events.
Joe: George received a call from a colleague asking what he knew about Tridium. From there we explored Tridium, and by 2011, we were a Tridium OEM partner. And by 2013, our BASremote product line was recognized by Tridium as Sedona 1.2 compliant.
Tridium is the developer of Sedona, a software environment designed to make it easy to build smart, networked, embedded devices which are well suited for implementing control applications. The Sedona technology, open-source license, downloadable code and documentation is currently managed by the Sedona Alliance, a Sedona community interested in keeping this open-source technology open for all to use.
Q: How did the Internet impact sales and your role as sale manager?
George: Joe was nearly adopter of e-commerce and led the company in creating an online marketplace for our products.
Joe: I didn't want there to be an elevated list price that was popular and standard in the industrial automation industry that I came out of. In the industrial automation industry, products, and, as a result, their prices are proprietary. Opponents to the transparent pricing said it exposed a price. In contrast, this wasn't an issue with the BACnet open-source protocol used in the building automation industry, which I believe is a more refreshing technology to work with.
Moving to BACnet was an excellent decision. Nowadays, everything is more transparent. There is more purchases made on-line than in the brick and mortar shops. The electronic store has evolved quite a bit. It is still a viable way to deliver products to the marketplace, but the downside is, it isn't scalable.
Q: What is your favorite Contemporary Controls product?
Joe: My favorite product is the BASRT-B BASrouter.
The BASRT-B is BACnet multi-network router which routes messages between BACnet/IP, BACnet Ethernet and BACnet MS/TP networks.
Joe: It was so popular that vendors would contact us to see if they could distribute our product. BASRT-B is simple enough to purchase and to use without a lot of hand holding. Most buyers could purchase them without asking for permission because they sold at a good price point.
Our production team could built it and keep costs down. To this day, it is a product we put out in volume at a reasonable price.
Q: What technology are you most excited about?
Joe: I am incredibly positive about BACnet—the product line is going to grow with the cellular market and the need for secure, remote access. No one wants to send a truck out anymore; they want to solve the problem without having to go onsite. They don't want "windshield time." Money is lost in the time it takes to drive somewhere.
To read more about the history of Contemporary Controls and a timeline our milestones, go to Contemporary Controls History.