Launching a new company is no easy feat, even for the most ambitious of entrepreneurs. For Robert Slass, it took getting fired from one fastener company before he ventured on his own in 1957 and founded Rotor Clip — which has since become a global manufacturer of retaining rings, springs, clamps, and more.
“My father was initially hired as a young engineer while he was still in school by a company called, Waldes Truarc,” shares Craig Slass about his dad. Slass is currently the VP of Rotor Clip. He and his brother, Jonathan Slass, fully run the company since their dad sadly passed away in 2009.
“After the war, the European-based Waldes set-up a factory in America and became licensed by the U.S. government to manufacture retaining rings. As it developed building standards for these parts, my father worked as the ‘checker,’ which meant he double-checked the math and calculations of the draftsmen,” he says.
According to Slass, however, his dad had a bit of an attitude and could be a little self-assured and aggressive. This eventually led to him getting pushed out of the company. “My dad had a strong personality, to say the least, and it got him fired from Waldes. They actually said to him: ‘You won’t be happy until you own the company.’”
Turns out, they were right.
“This led to my father founding a product line of retaining rings and starting his own company in Farmingdale, in Long Island, New York,” says Slass. Retaining rings are typically used to hold components onto a shaft or into a bore.
In the 60s, his dad moved the company to the Bronx and then, in the early 70s, to Somerset, New Jersey, where the company is still headquartered today.
“What’s interesting is that my father started out with next to nothing. For example, he didn’t have any of the equipment or heat-treating machines necessary at the time to actually make products…yet, he slowly built Rotor Clip up to become a vertically integrated manufacturer, which is what my brother and I own and manage today,” he says.
This means the company currently does all of its own development, design, and engineering. “We even have our own miniature steel mill and annealing furnaces, with the capability to provide design, stamping and coiling, laser cutting, heat treating, finishing, and packaging,” says Slass. “My brother and I have made sure it’s fully integrated and self-sustainable.”
One of several lessons the brothers learned from their father was to never give up on a goal. “I learned the value of staying focused and never doing anything partially or only halfway,” says Slass. “It can be intense but if you’re committed to something, ‘no’ is simply not an option.”
One such example: when the company was located in the Bronx, the crime rate became so high at the time that it was a big concern. “In fact, it was so bad that my father literally had to weld the typewriters to the desks. So, at one point, he told his accountant that they had to find a way to move out of the area. His accountant’s reply: ‘Well, you’re an engineer…why not build a place of your own?’ And that’s what my dad did, essentially becoming a true entrepreneur.”
That’s when Robert Slass found a piece of property in Somerset to build today’s Rotor Clip location. For him, this also meant driving in every morning from his home in the Bronx to work on the site with the construction crew.
“My father was his own contractor,” says Slass. “He would learn the science of concrete just to understand and be involved with the process of pouring it. He was never afraid to take on projects by himself — from constructing buildings to building roofs, he’d simply learn each step on his own. And, so the foundation of Rotor Clip was truly built on his expertise and love of engineering and science.”
That love of learning was infectious, and both Slass and his brother followed in their dad’s footsteps.
“We were born and bred for attaining anything and believed that anything was possible,” says Slass. “But as we grew up, Rotor Clip was our playground. I mean our father even bought us a pony and built his own barn on the company property. So, we were excited as kids to work there one day.”
However, Slass and his brother decided early on to take the company to new levels and do things a little differently. They joined Rotor Clip in the early 90s. “We were fortunate as kids to learn every aspect of the business, from the hardships of life to watching it grow and prosper. But one thing we decided early on was that we were not going to be paving driveways like our father did,” he laughs. “We made a commitment to focus on the products and make them better than anyone else’s in the world, and that’s what we do.”
Case-in-point: Rotor Clip supports more than a dozen industries (think aerospace, automotive, energy, defense, motion control, medical, and others) and manufactures a full line of inch, DIN, ANSI metric, and JIS retaining rings to world standards. This includes a complete line of constant section rings, spiral retaining rings, and wave springs. In fact, there are over 50 different styles and over 1,000-part numbers to fit virtually every application.
The company also supports its market with a full line of installation tools, such as applicators, pliers, dispensers, and automated assembly equipment.
“We’re constantly asking ourselves how we can best contribute to industry and society, and how to make things better,” says Slass.
Currently, this means the manufacturer is contributing to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting its customers that produce the medical components or equipment needed to treat or halt the spread of the deadly virus. One example is to supply critical wave springs needed for a ventilator production project.
“We’ve been challenged before, in 2008 with the recession and in 2001 with the 9/11 tragedy, and so we simply step up,” shares Slass. “You almost can’t stop to think about it too much and just have to get involved and do whatever’s necessary to support society. We want to be a part of the solution no matter what it takes.” For the ventilator project, this meant producing and delivering those springs within two days.
Slass says that as much as possible, the company does the same for its employees. “Healthcare is so important. I feel it’s my job to provide for and cover as much of the healthcare costs as I can for my staff. So, if any one of our employees or their children get sick, they don’t have to sell their homes to pay for an illness or serious medical problem.”
Like father, like son. And, in this case, the saying seems profoundly true. Slass says his dad also made little differentiation between his family and employees.
“My father took such pride in his people,” he says. “Whenever we had family functions, there would be people from the company invited just like they were one of us. I’ll always remember that. He may have been extremely determined in business, but he sure cared a lot. My brother and I feel the same way.”
To learn more about the history of Rotor Clip, including founder Robert Slass, download a free eBook here.