Biodefense Grant

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These articles by Barbara Fox were prepared for the April 20, 2005

issue of U.S. 1

Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Life in the Fast Lane

Chalk up another victory for father-and-son businesses. Joe and Scott

Needham of Princeton Air Conditioning have won the state contest for

the Small Business Person of the Year. James A. Kocsi, the U.S. Small

Business Administration’s New Jersey district director, is scheduled

to present the award on Wednesday, March 20.

The Needhams have one of those feel-good stories that is a pleasure to

tell. Joe Needham’s father had founded a trucking company in 1921, and

the vagaries of the business were a frequent topic at the dinner table

on Philadelphia’s Main Line. The oldest of seven, Joe went to St.

Joseph’s College, Class of 1953, and then joined his father’s

business, staying with the business even after it was sold.

"But I came to the conclusion I should get out of that business, a

24-hour a day operation that was highly unionized. I spent 25 percent

of my time on arbitration," he says. Also, truckers have scheduling

problems. "One day you have more than you could handle, the next day

you would be slow. Your profits were tied to the economy, and you were

at the mercy of the customer."

In 1970, at age 38, Joe Needham decided to leave trucking and put a

second mortgage on his West Windsor home. With that $10,000 stake he

bought a Trane air conditioning dealership. (Trane had no major

dealerships in this area, and the factory that now has the Trane name

in Trenton was owned at that time by General Electric.) "In the 1970s,

the growth curve on air conditioning was tremendous," he remembers.

Now Princeton Air has 42 employees in a 10,000 square foot

office/warehouse on Everett Drive, and 20 vehicles serving 6,000

clients in three counties. Annual sales are $4.7 million. In addition

to central air conditioners and gas or oil hot air furnaces, the firm

sells large commercial systems, control systems, thermostats,

humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and indoor air quality products. The

technicians are trained in a half dozen brands including the two best

sellers, Trane and Lennox, plus Sanyo, Honeywell, Unico, and


Some of the company’s growth can be attributed to Joe’s son Scott, who

was named president three years ago. The second oldest in a family

with five girls, Scott majored in architecture at Rhode Island-based

Roger Williams College, Class of 1980. He worked as a ski instructor

and as a junior architect but soon lost his interest in low level

work, and joined his father’s business in 1987. (Scott says his

familiarity with reading blueprints comes in handy when he works with

builders and architects.)

Now Joe is the CEO who owns 60 percent of the business and runs the

residential division. Joe is married to Joan Needham, a hand-made

paper artist, and they have nine grandchildren. Joe’s brother Don also

works in the business.

Scott owns 40 percent and handles sales and management and commercial

clients. Scott’s wife, Michelle Needham, is a real estate agent with

Gloria Nilson, and they have a school-aged son.

The Needhams have managed to avoid the typical family business problem

– relationships. "We run different parts of the company, and we are

not tripping over each other," says Scott.

"We’ve always been able to resolve disagreements and go on with the

business," says Joe.

Joe says that he learned, by negative example, from his father "not to

be a screamer, not to fly off the handle. It doesn’t get you very far

in business."

Scott’s lesson from Joe was not only to be a calm boss but also to

create a culture of openness and honesty, "to allow people around you

to take risks and not be treated harshly if they make a mistake."

He cites two risky steps that turned out to be successful: buying a

commercial franchise in 1993 and offering maintenance agreements that

include all repairs. "Some contractors find that too risky, but we

analyzed our exposure and decided to sell more of those agreements."

The Needhams were nominated by the Princeton chamber, notes Kristin

Appelget, because they won the chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year

award last year. Six years ago the winner of the chamber award, Janet

Lasley of Lasley Construction, won not only the state SBA contest but

also the national contest. What impressed the chamber judges about the

Needhams, says Appelget, was the unusual informal "board of

directors," an industry group of contractors, roughly the same size,

from noncompeting areas, called the Management Information Exchange.

The MIX members travel, every six months, to a different location. A

critique team goes in a day or two early to interview all the

employees, and the rest of the contractors have a day or two of

meetings. "We benchmark our financial statements against each other

and the team gives an honest critique. You bare a lot of issues at

that meeting and sometimes it gets a little dicey," says Scott. "The

challenge is to take those suggestions and integrate them into the


What, exactly, did the critique team say in Princeton? "In September,

2003," says Scott, "they thought one employee was not a good fit in

the organization and could be sabotaging some initiatives." That

employee no longer works for the Needhams. The Needhams did not take

the advice to unload a particular franchise, but they heeded

suggestions to put a detailed succession plan in place. "The little

ideas that the other contractors share – you can take them and run

with them. We call our R&D department "rob and duplicate."

"It’s like having nine unpaid consultants come into your business

every two to three years," says Joe, "and we are successful because of

it. I don’t understand why more industries don’t do that."

Another good move: adopting the open book management philosophy 10

years ago. At a quarterly breakfast meeting all the employees get to

see the numbers – sales, costs, and profits – to judge the impact that

they and their co-workers have on the company’s profit sharing plan.

"We learned we needed to do this from annual employee surveys," says

Scott. "This creates a forum to shout that stuff out and show our


Was it worth the time to apply to these contests? "I set aside some

time every day to march through the SBA application process," says

Scott. "It probably took a total of 30 hours between the two of us.

But it crystallized things we do that we forget about."

The SBA award criteria included staying power (a substantial history

of an established business); growth in number of employees; increase

in sales; financial strength of the company; innovativeness of product

or service offered; response to adversity; and contributions to aid

community oriented projects. The Needhams have also been nominated for

the Ernst & Young award.

Scott attributes part of the company’s success to membership in

Princeton and Mercer chambers and the Princeton Corridor Rotary. He

notes the company occupies the niche between big companies like PSE&G

and the smaller firms such as Cranbury Comfort Systems. "When you

crank the numbers," says Scott, "there is a lot of market share up for


Princeton Air Conditioning, 39 Everett Drive, Building D, Princeton

Junction 08550. Joseph Needham, CEO. J. Scott Needham, president.

609-799-3434; fax, 609-799-7036. Home page:

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Biodefense Grant

Earlier this month a Princeton Corporate Plaza company received word

of an $885,641 biodefense partnership grant from the National

Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The grant money

is expected to pay for two or three positions.

Synergy Pharmaceuticals is developing a monoclonal antibody and

vaccine against bacterial superantigen toxins. "This is something very

new in the field," says Kunwar Shailubhai, senior vice president and

principal investigator for the grant.

To head off trouble from bacterial superantigens (the particularly

lethal ones from staphyloccal and streptococcal strains), he is

working with a monoclonal antibody and an antagonist peptide. "We are

aiming for prevention and control. We are developing an antibody that

would neutralize toxins."

Synergy Pharmaceuticals developed the discovery portfolio and then

merged; it is now a wholly owned subsidiary of a public firm, Callisto

Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which trades on the American Stock Exchange.

"A biological attack that utilizes a mixture of toxins or live

bacteria readily produced in ordinary laboratories, without

sophisticated instruments, is a very real threat to U.S. citizens,"

says Shailubhai. "To handle a biological threat of this nature, there

is a tremendous need for broad-spectrum countermeasures."

The son of a government official, Shailubhai went to Udapur

University, Class of 1976, and has a PhD microbiology from the

University of Baroda in Gujarat. He came to this country to do post

doctoral work at the University of Maryland, then went to NIH and to

Monsanto Life Sciences, which sponsored his MBA. He obtained his MBA

from two institutions – St. Louis and Temple – and then joined

Synergy. He and his wife, who is also a scientist, have three


He says he moved the R&D center to New Jersey last year because he

hopes to be able to sell his tax credits. "The Pennsylvania government

didn’t offer us anything," says Shailubhai, who commutes to South

Brunswick from Pennsylvania. Gary S. Jacob is CEO of Callisto, based

in Manhattan.

Callisto is working with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston on two

cancer treatment drugs, Annamycin for relapsed leukemia, and

Atiprimod, licensed from SmithKlineBeecham, for relapsed multiple

myeloma (MM) and bone resorption.

Synergy Pharmaceuticals (KAL), 7 Deer Park Drive, Princeton Corporate

Plaza, Suite N, Monmouth Junction 08852. 732-329-2122; fax,


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