My father, Sol Englander, passed away on Feb. 2 of this year. He was an inspiration to many people, and he had a significant impact on school bus safety through Rosco Inc.’s development of mirrors and vision technology.
Sol led an exemplary life of honesty, integrity, compassion, altruism, and a commitment to excellence that was second to none. Throughout his life, he touched many people in profound ways, each of whom became better by the association.
Roots in Manufacturing
Sol Englander was born in Romania in 1922. His father started a metal parts manufacturing business in the mid-1930s with a partner who ended up leaving the business after a few years. Sol was thrust into the business at a young age with tremendous ability but little experience. He apprenticed as a tool die maker for a short time and subsequently helped make the business a success.
Unfortunately, World War II started and turned Sol’s life upside down. Sol’s parents both died in the war. When he returned to his hometown, he attempted to restart the business, but communism was coming quickly to Romania, and he saw little chance to continue.
Sol left home and moved through Europe for the next decade, always starting tool and die businesses and making a successful go in most cases. However, he never was able to achieve what he hoped, and he always tried again in other venues. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that the United States presented his best chance for success.
In 1959, Sol and his wife, Trudy, arrived in New York with their shared dreams of building a life here and with an incredible drive to achieve. They lived first in Brooklyn and then in Queens.
Sol’s first job was with Swingline in Long Island City. In 1960, he met a Mr. Bernstein, who was the owner of Rosco at that time. Rosco was located in Manhattan and was not in good shape. Sol convinced Mr. Bernstein to hire him to try to revive the company. Sol was able to turn things around, but not sufficiently to prevent the company from going bankrupt in 1961.
Sol decided that he could make a go of it if only he could restart the company. He proceeded to buy the nominal assets of the company at a bankruptcy auction by borrowing money from friends and family.
The early years in this venture were very hard. The business grew slowly, and Sol had to wear many hats. Manufacturing, sales, and engineering all fell to him.
Sol found himself traveling all over the country to drum up business. It wasn’t easy for a new immigrant with an accent and no background in sales. But what he lacked in language, he more than made up for in will and commitment. Anyone who gave him a chance never regretted it. Sol was a man of his word, and if he committed to manufacture a product, it was of the highest quality and always delivered on time.
The business grew enough over the early years that Rosco had to find a bigger facility. Sol moved the company to Massapequa on Long Island in 1968 and again in 1974 to the current location in Jamaica, Queens.
The earliest years of Rosco saw the company manufacturing mirrors and lights strictly for the automotive markets. Sol saw a better opportunity in the heavy-duty markets, and he shifted the company in that direction throughout the ’70s and ’80s. That shift continued even further in the ’90s with greater emphasis in the bus and specialized truck world.
School Bus Focus
My brother Danny joined Rosco in 1983, and I joined in 1988. Our presence gave our father a seemingly renewed vigor to grow the business. No day went by without him pushing everyone to find new opportunities. That push led us to begin to focus on the school bus industry.
In 1993, we attended our first National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) conference in Pittsburgh. From that point, we began to work diligently to develop products specifically to meet the needs of this unique market.
Sol was laser-focused to develop cross-view mirrors that met the vision requirements of the recently updated federal motor vehicle safety standard 111 requirements for school buses. He received numerous patents for his work in this and other areas. That drive to innovate for safety still motivates us today, 25 years later.
Embracing Digital Vision
Sol was never comfortable to rest on his accomplishments. He knew that a business has to evolve to remain relevant in today’s fast-changing marketplace. When the demand for interior bus video recording started to appear, Rosco was ready with our VCU system based on the Sony recording cameras. That early shift led Rosco to embrace digital vision to the point where in 2006, Rosco brought a school bus without any mirrors to the NAPT trade show. Every mirror was replaced with a camera and monitor. This made Sol very proud to know that he had motivated this shift within our organization. Today, digital vision technology has become a major part of what Rosco does.
Learning From Successes, Failures
Sol was a businessman whose drive to succeed made everyone around him better, but first and foremost he was an educator. Every experience at work eventually turned into a teachable moment. If we didn’t learn something from our successes — and even more from our failures — then something was wrong.
Sol taught best practices about quality before quality control was the science that it is today. He could have written books on management and leadership with the innate knowledge that he possessed and shared with all of us. He was also a Bible scholar, and he never missed an opportunity to draw parallels between our experiences today and messages from the Bible.
Later Years: Staying Active
In 2005, when Rosco opened up our new expanded plant, Sol was already 82 years old, but his drive had not diminished at all. In order to get around the facility, Sol bought himself a mobility cart so that he could remain on the shop floor, the area of the company where he derived the greatest satisfaction — the environment that started him on his path.
In these later years, Sol could always be found coaching employees on best practices in manufacturing and working with our managers to streamline production.
In recent years, Sol began to slow down … marginally. He actually began to take some time in the winters in his apartment in Miami. But he never stayed away for long. When out of the office, he always called in at least once a day for reports on how things were progressing in his absence.
Sol’s last day at Rosco was Jan. 10 of this year. At 94 years of age, he still had the energy to come in and meet with all our directors to hear about the latest developments. Other than his family, nothing gave him more satisfaction than knowing that Rosco, his “baby,” was thriving and doing well.
Sol went into the hospital in late January with pneumonia. He could barely speak, but he still managed to ask us how things were doing at work. As I described what was happening, you could see his face light up.
On Feb. 2, Sol passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home with family nearby.
At his funeral, so many former Rosco employees came to pay their respects. People who Sol had “raised” from the time they joined Rosco as young men until their retirement — as much as 40 years later — came to say goodbye. It was a moving tribute to a man who meant so much to all of us.
Ben Englander, son of Sol, is vice president of engineering for Rosco Vision Systems.