After starting his career in the chemical and utility industries, Anthony Sartor joined Paulus & Sokolowski in 1974, hoping to grow the small engineering firm by building an environmental practice. But he quickly realized it wasn't quite time to expand.
"Because of me, over the next two years, they went from 20 (employees) to 16," Sartor recalled recently at the firm's Warren office. "It was the wrong direction. The country was in a recession … the oil industry was in the tank, and it was hurting."
But the firm's luck turned in 1976, when New Jersey legalized casino gaming in Atlantic City. The company's environmental practice "got us in the front door" of the gaming halls, which required a large amount of permitting work — allowing it to build its clientele with casino magnates like Steve Wynn.
Sartor, 69, is now chairman and CEO of a firm that has grown for nearly four decades, thanks in large part to its ability to adapt around some of the region's biggest industries. The 50-year-old company, now known as Paulus, Sokolowski & Sartor, today handles everything from pharmaceuticals, energy and education, to real estate, hospitality and infrastructure.
Building a well-rounded practice might not have been possible without Sartor's roots in environmental engineering, which predate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. After receiving a doctorate in 1968, Sartor worked for plastics maker Celanese and then Consolidated Edison, the New York electric utility, as an engineer for its environmental bureau.
He then became an environmental affairs manager for the former New York Power Pool. But when faced with a move to Albany in 1973, the Fairview native looked elsewhere, joining engineers William Paulus and Wally Sokolowski at their Watchung firm.
Since then, Sartor has helped transform PS&S from a small real estate practice to one of the state's largest engineering firms. After feeding off the hospitality business in the late 1970s and 1980s, the firm expanded its public-sector and utilities portfolio, jump-started again by Sartor's background, he said. In the '90s, PS&S tapped into New Jersey's fast-growing pharmaceutical industry, a practice that is still robust.
"One of the things that we've always been able to do is be ahead of the curve," Sartor said. "And that's what's kept us very, very stable."
But Peter Visceglia, a longtime client, said the continuity of the PS&S staff is just as important to its success. Visceglia said his company, Federal Business Centers, has worked with the same team of PS&S professionals for more than 20 years, all from a host of disciplines spanning engineering, building design and regulatory consulting."It all starts at the top. That loyalty and those long-term relationships — they don't just happen," said Visceglia, whose firm owns parts of the Raritan Center complex.
Sartor estimates the firm lost up to one-third of its business "overnight" in late 2008, when the real estate and hospitality downturn took hold. But the company has been able to remain stable and reposition itself for the future; part of its success comes from its presence in New Jersey's urban centers, according to Sartor and his son, John Sartor, the firm's executive vice president. PS&S has offices in Atlantic City and Newark, and recently moved its Philadelphia office to Camden.
The practice is now busy in the South Jersey city with affordable-housing projects and work with the Delaware River Port Authority. But it's also positioning itself for what the Sartors feel will be a real opportunity — development tied to the integration of Cooper University Hospital, Rowan University and Rutgers University.
"That model — where you combine something health care-related and university-related (with) private-sector money — is really going to drive a lot of business in New Jersey," John Sartor said.
Despite the firm's success, Anthony Sartor has kept a low profile throughout his career. But that hasn't stopped him from making an impact in some high-profile posts: as a commissioner with the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority in the 1990s, he helped guide the development of projects like the Atlantic City Convention Center.
He also brought his construction and engineering expertise to the Port Authority, and found himself at a meeting on Long Island on Sept. 11, 2001, when he learned that a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers.
Sartor called then-Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, a close friend, who was at the governor's mansion at the time. "As we were talking about what was going on, he said, 'Oh my God, Tony. A second plane has hit. We're under attack,'" Sartor said.
His duties as a Port Authority commissioner were immediately transformed. He was soon named chair of the World Trade Center Redevelopment Subcommittee, a post he has held ever since.
The Scotch Plains resident has put his stamp on the project by selecting a master planner, negotiating with developer Larry Silverstein for control of the site and guiding the reconstruction of the transportation infrastructure around Lower Manhattan.
"He's really been the champion since day one," said Steven Plate, director of World Trade Center Construction for the Port Authority, noting that Sartor helps steer a project that includes "building five Empire State Buildings, 500,000 square feet of iron retail … and Lower Manhattan's version of Grand Central."
The project's pace has been repeatedly criticized, but when the tower is complete, "I'll have a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and a tremendous sense of appreciation for the people who have worked on this site," he said. "And those guys and gals deserve all the accolades in the world for doing what they've done in this period of time."
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