Still growing at 100 Leaders: Provider of engineering and manufacturing services to the fertilizer industry, A. J. Sackett & Sons is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

December 31, 1997|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Walter Sackett Jr. went to work at A. J. Sackett & Sons when he was 10 years old. At that time, he said, men's spit would be black when they left the Highlandtown plant after their shift.

Today, 55 years later, much has changed. Sackett is now the chairman, and the plant is cleaner and more efficient. But one thing remains the same: Sackett & Sons provides engineering and manufacturing services to the fertilizer industry.

"They're a leader in the industry, very highly thought of," said Jim Sulecki, editor of Farm Chemicals magazine. "They're one of the largest manufacturers of this type of equipment in the country, and they're known for their quality."

This year Sackett & Sons is celebrating its 100th anniversary. It was founded by Walter Sackett Jr.'s grandfather, Gus Sackett, on Front Street in 1897. At the turn of the century, it moved to its present location, at the foot of South Highland Avenue, and, even though the company does business throughout the world, it has stayed true to its Baltimore roots.

The company has more than 200 patents, including one signed by Adolf Hitler in 1936. Sackett said his father, Walter Sackett Sr., was "a wild man on patents," but almost half of the ideas patented were never realized.

Sackett & Sons has 56 employees and estimates sales this year to be $18 million. Business is booming now for several reasons, Sackett said. One key reason is the business the firm does abroad, which now accounts for 55 percent of its sales. The company has done three jobs in China and also worked in South and Central America, the Middle East, Africa and Australia.

Sulecki said the company is doing so well internationally because of its expertise in making large, heavy-duty equipment.

The overseas expansion has largely come during Larry Taylor's tenure as president. Hired by Sackett in 1977, Taylor became president in 1988 and has managed the company's growth in the United States and abroad.

"My father and uncle taught me how to design the stuff, how to sell it and how to build it," Sackett said. "The only thing they didn't tell me how to do, because they didn't know, was how to make a buck out of it."

So Sackett brought in Taylor, and, after some rough times in the mid-1980s, business is now better than it's ever been. Sackett gives Taylor, the first president not to be in the Sackett family, most of the credit.

"Larry Taylor developed the international market for us," said Dan Humphries, vice president for sales. "It's a market you develop on friendships and trust. Word gets around when a company does good work."

In 1995, Sackett & Sons formed a partnership with Waconia Manufacturing in Waconia, Minn., which specializes in equipment for smaller fertilizer plants and has a strong Midwest clientele. Sackett & Sons has ceased manufacture of some of its products that Waconia can make more efficiently. Waconia has done the same.

"That's been a very good partnership," Sackett said. "We were competitors with them in the Midwest, and they beat our brains out."

The company is also benefiting from a shift to plant consolidation among large retail fertilizer dealers. Small plants are being closed to make way for larger, environmentally friendly plants, which is good news for Sackett & Sons because it specializes in heavy-duty equipment.

When Gus Sackett founded the company in 1897, the Baltimore harbor was lined with fertilizer plants, Walter Sackett Jr. said. But the fertilizer business has moved west in this century, and Sackett & Sons has at times considered following suit.

In 1956, then-President A. J. Sackett Jr. threatened to move West because of a manufacturing tax enacted by then-Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. "It was only due to the fact that our roots were so deeply embedded in this area that we have not moved west long before now," Sackett wrote the mayor. Sackett wrote that less than 10 percent of his business came from Maryland.

But Walter Sackett Jr. said he's glad that the company stayed in Baltimore because so much of its business is abroad now, and being close to a port is essential to expanding in that market.

Sackett is the third generation of his family to run the business, and he's likely to be the last. His children are not in the business, but Sackett said he's not upset that power is shifting away from the family.

"The important thing is that the people who have been loyal to the company, the company is loyal to them," Sackett said.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.