In 1992, Lisa Jandacek, a stay-at-home mom, decided to pick up a 10-hour-a-month contract work with a new sci-tech startup called Particle Technology Labs. She’d be in accounting. The founder and sole full-time employee, Richard F. Karuhn, would handle the science. It was a good allocation of duties since Lisa’s degree was in international business
Little did Lisa imagine that this contract job would evolve into a 30-year career at Particle Technology Labs. Today, she is Executive VP/Director of Operations as one of the three partners at PTL. Lisa oversees customer service, marketing, sales, finance and human relations. As PTL’s resident “historian” we wanted to gain her perspective on PTL’s evolution and insights about her own career at the Lab.
Q: It’s pretty remarkable to be at the genesis of a company and see it flourish through the years.
I like to say my children and the Lab grew up together. I was home with my three young children when I became the first-person Richard F. Karuhn hired. I was working under 10 hours a month as an independent contractor to help with invoicing and accounts receivable. Richard did the science and I did the business.
That was in February of 1993 when PTL was still operating out of Richard’s basement! As PTL grew, we moved into a small space on the property we are now. By then, we had about five employees. I was still part-time and remember some days packing up my youngest, with his Legos in tow, and heading to the office. I’d be doing the books while he played on my office floor.
I still love coming to work every single day. It’s rewarding. The Lab is so very successful—more than I ever imagined back in 1992.
Q: Even the brightest and best businesses can fail in those early days. Was there anything that gave PTL an edge back then?
First, Richard was uniquely suited for a science-based startup. As PTL’s founder, he had to find—actually invent—ways to solve a client’s need with few resources. I still marvel at how at 50 years of age he left his full-time job and completely started over.
Back in 1992, Particle Technology Labs was a unique concept. In the 1980’s and 90’s, you could not get a degree in particle science. Particle technology really was an emerging science.
The particle sizing instrument manufacturers that did exist back then had the mindset, “you will make your product work in my instrument.” Richard had a completely different concept. He believed that one size does not fit all. Richard was fully engaged with every project that came through our door. That’s a legacy that’s very much alive today at PTL.
Of course, with more people, come more responsibility. When COVID escalated, figuring out operations was huge. I knew I had 50 families depending on us to keep their family members safe at work and employed. I take everyone’s well-being very seriously. In those early days of the pandemic, we had no precedence. So, we flexed. We organized split shifts, implemented social distance requirements and didn’t close our doors. We continued to be a reliable, driven laboratory partner to many pharmaceutical, municipal and research companies deemed critical to the pandemic fight.
Q: Let’s fast-forward to 2022. The particle tech landscape is now denser with companies and universities doing what PTL does. What keeps PTL competitive?
I could mention all the characterization services and our impressive lineup of physical characterization instrumentation. But honestly, there are two things that I believe set us apart: our partnership with clients and the people we hire. In fact, we have some long-term employees and clients that started out together at PTL and are still here!
We consider ourselves true partners to each and every client in need of particle characterization services and understand that clients need us to be their eyes and ears when analyzing their materials. Our communication goes beyond generating a report and leaving it up to the client to interpret. In addition to accurate results, we talk with the clients. We are happy to have a dialogue with them about the data and the implications of that data. Even simple questions like, “Why are you testing this sample? What do you want to prove or disprove?” We get their answers and add our 30 years of experience to the mix. At PTL, we seek to engage and find out the “Why” not just receive the sample.
Secondly, we have a group of people who have found a home here at PTL. Particle Technology Labs is small enough to write your own path—like I did. We have many PTL leaders managers and non-managers alike. Along with hard work, they take initiative, innovate and are able to work collaboratively and autonomously. There’s an incredible sense of stewardship among our people. I remember coworkers coming in with me to help clean up a flood in 2012. When people give you their best, how can you not give your best back to them?