If history has proven one thing to the Massa family, it’s this: opportunity often arises when you least expect it. As the granddaughter and daughter of engineers who entrusted the future of the family business to her, Dawn Massa Stancavish has had time to reflect on the challenges that have helped her company thrive.
In April—the month of her and her late grandfather’s birthday and amidst the current Coronavirus pandemic—the mother and Chief Innovation Officer & COO of Massa Products Corporation shared her thoughts.
My sons are 13 and 10, and it occurred to me that my grandfather was between their ages when the Spanish flu hit in 1918. So, it’s a strange paradigm of how history in our family and the world repeats.
After his mother immigrated from Italy to the U.S., Frank Massa was born in Boston’s North End. As a poor immigrant family, his grandmother saved dimes to pay for his education. He then went on to earn his undergrad in electrical engineering at MIT through a full academic scholarship. He graduated at the head of his class as a “Swope Fellow” and then earned his Master’s at MIT. In 1928, he went to work in Camden, NJ for Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA-Victor) in their Acoustic Research Department.
A year later, in 1929, Wall Street crashed and the Great Depression began. “Everyone was losing their jobs,” Massa Stancavish said, “but employees working, like my grandfather, on making sound for movies were considered ‘essential’ because those films provided a few moments of happiness for people.” He went on to pioneer the initial basic development of microphones and loudspeakers used in radio and motion pictures.
As the U.S. entered World War II in 1942, Massa went to work for the Brush Development Company. Charged with counteracting the devastating effects of the German U-boats, he created a hydrophone that picked up noise from the enemy’s torpedoes and automatically fired a counter charge before the torpedo reached the ship.
What’s so interesting to me, is that my grandfather never spoke of anything holding him back—not the Spanish Flu, not prejudice from being a poor immigrant family, the Great Depression, nor the challenges of WWII. He only focused on what could be accomplished and making ideas into reality.
In 1950, he moved Massa to the present location in Hingham to provide undersea technology that could act as the eyes and ears for naval ships and submarines which protect the U.S. coastlines. It was his dream to have a business where he could design, test and produce superior quality electroacoustic products. There is a strong emphasis on the collaboration between design engineering and production engineering that was set in place by Frank and maintained today as a critical component to the success of the business.
In the 1970’s Don Massa, Dawn’s father, became the President. His training came directly from his father, but he also was responsible for advancing the business focus more on systems and sensors and influenced the world’s first automatic bowling scoring systems and first ultrasonic intrusion alarms. Virtually every ultrasonic transducer design can fundamentally be traced back to Massa.
The company maintains family ownership and leadership today as it continues to engineer and manufacture sonar and ultrasonic products for use in the water and air and celebrates 75 years of innovation and invention.
Knowledge has been passed down through generations, and some of the same engineers that worked with Frank Massa are still at the company today. Dawn said she’s thrilled to pay it forward for the next generation. The company participates in a coop program at Northeastern University, works with middle and high school students through the Hingham Robotics Club and Cohasset Center for Student Coastal Research, and partners with the South Shore Conservatory and the Hingham Historical Society.
As the unemployment rate soars as a result of the global Coronavirus pandemic, Massa Stancavish finds her company in another historically-challenging time.
Presently, we are all faced with COVID-19 which threatens us; as a nation, a Commonwealth, as families, as employees, and as employers. In our case, Massa is an essential business providing necessary Sonar to our Navy, so that we may be protected as a nation and as a people. As an employer, I am not only challenged to meet those demands, but to meet the demands that are necessary to protect my employees. Everyone at Massa is considered a part of the extended Massa family and, as such, we care tremendously about keeping them healthy, safe, and employed.
In a time of panic and uncertainty, Massa Stancavish says that there is optimism to be had through rational and thoughtful planning. As she finds herself in the shoes of her grandfather and father before her, Frank and Don, she is taking a page from the family playbook.
She is finding opportunity even within the pandemic. Massa Stancavish notes that because of her company’s smaller size, she is able to keep her employees working (many of them from home) and provide the others in the plant with protective gear and social distancing guidelines to keep them safe.
She is also capitalizing on her company’s size and its ability to be nimble and competitive.
“We often tailor our designs to fit customer needs and that has led to over 165 U.S. patents in sonar and ultrasonic technology,” she shares. “Just because you can’t see something out there, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Being able to achieve things larger companies can’t do, provides opportunity for us.”
If anyone knows how to turn a challenging situation into a golden opportunity, it’s Massa Stancavish. After all, she had the best teachers.