17 August 2020
By Charis Heelan, ACOEM Ecotech Senior Copywriter
From a home basement in Templestowe to a global leader in environmental monitoring – how one man’s passion, drive and determination has created a legacy and changed the way air quality is monitored in more than 80 countries.
After a career spanning almost 45 years as a trailblazer in environmental monitoring, Robert Dal Sasso is hanging up his soldering iron and stepping back from Ecotech – the company he founded and nurtured – which is now part of the ACOEM Group.
When you first talk with Robert Dal Sasso, he will always make a point to get to know you and find common ground. Building relationships is what he does best. There is a distinct humbleness in his tone, making it hard to imagine that he has such a significant impact on not only the air we breathe in Australia, but around the world.
From idea to implementation
What started out as a decision to import data loggers from the United States some 45 years ago became Ecotech, a company that has solved problems and designed solutions to help thousands of environmental agencies, government authorities, researchers and industries ever since.
When I asked Robert what he was most proud of in his long career, he highlighted the first contract he ever won with the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to supply their first air quality monitoring stations. At the time, he was still working from his basement with a team of just five people – mainly electrical engineers like himself. He does admit that he once forced his brother-in-law to wear a white lab coat and pretend to be a staff member to make his team look bigger when a client was visiting.
“Back then deals were done by handshake. Agencies put their trust in us and went with Ecotech based on personal relationships we had established. Reputation was everything. I miss that way of doing business. Today it is all about ticking boxes on tender forms and having the right compliance, insurance, accreditations, and licences,” he remarked.
A relentless commitment to quality
The way contracts were agreed upon may have changed, but what hasn’t changed during the past 40 plus years is Robert’s commitment to always producing the highest quality equipment and going above and beyond to exceed customers’ expectations.
In many ways he was a visionary when it came to anticipating new technology, identifying industry trends, and travelling to remote parts of the planet to see how his monitoring systems were commissioned and operating. He positioned Ecotech to be a forefront of change, innovation and strategic decision making.
As Ecotech grew and Robert would interview prospective job candidates, he would always ask them “What makes you get out of bed in the morning?” He only wanted to work with passionate people, people who cared about what they did, and more importantly enjoyed what they did.
A family affair
A family business since its inception, Ecotech has always had a Dal Sasso in leadership roles. Robert’s wife Judy managed operations and administration from the early days right up to her retirement in 2009. Robert’s son Nicholas took over the reins as Managing Director in 2012 before migrating to his expanded role as CEO of ACOEM’s Environment division and his other son, Paul, also worked with Ecotech for over a decade.
When I spoke to Nicholas Dal Sasso about his father, he was quick to offer up a number of humorous anecdotes, but you really got a sense that above all, Nicholas was in awe of what his father had achieved and continues to be inspired by his work ethic. “There has always been a Dal Sasso way of doing things,” he commented. “Dad would never give up on a customer and would never compromise on quality.”
“People gravitate towards him, whether it is technicians down in the trenches or government leaders. Robert has always been proud that our Australian ingenuity has pushed the envelope in a global industry and given us a world-class reputation.”
“Helping people, giving back and making the world a better place were always his motivations,” said Nicholas.
Constant innovation and new applications
According to Robert, education and training are key. “Even today, many countries are still developing their responses to air quality monitoring for the first time, so it is essential to provide the best possible solutions and help agencies implement them.”
Throughout his career Robert was invited to countries like Mexico, Thailand, USA, Germany, Cyprus, Hong Kong, and South Korea to deliver conference addresses, train technicians and help environmental agencies fulfill their obligations. He was instrumental in changing people’s perception of the importance of data accuracy in air quality monitoring. After a visit from Robert, the US EPA embraced digital data reporting – which had until then only relied on analogue systems.
Although he will not be involved in the day-to-day operations at Ecotech anymore, that does not mean that his interest has waned. “Air quality monitoring of indoor spaces has always interested me and now more than ever, I believe we will see a huge growth in demand for accurate monitoring of interior areas. Viruses can ride on particulate matter, so it’s vital that buildings like hospitals, schools, offices etc. monitor their inside air quality to keep users safe,” he remarked.
When I asked him what he was looking forward to most in retirement, his answer was immediate. “I want to continue travelling and catching up with all the people I formed business relationships and personal friendships with over the years,” he said.
We wish Robert well and remain eternally grateful to him for everything he has done to elevate the air quality monitoring industry and Australian know-how on the world stage.