2017 Family Harmony Finalist

Success at Optimize Technologies depends on trust and respect of family members

Fans of crime investigations shows are familiar with scenes where a forensic scientist takes body fluid samples and injects them into a big white box, a technique known as high-performance liquid chromatography, or HPLC.

Optimize Technologies is the company that makes the products that go into HPLC instruments.

But that’s only the beginning of where its products turn up in the the pharmaceutical, environmental analysis and forensics industries. Optimize has worked on projects for NASA to study whether body matter changes when people travel to outer space. It’s helped chemists find treatments for AIDS and Ebola.

Optimize products can be found in more than 60 countries, and the company holds significant intellectual property with more than 20 patents and numerous more trademarks.

“The company was founded by my parents, Doug and Lisa (Ford) in 1985 in Mulino, Oregon, in my grandparent’s home,” explains Amanda Towlerton, their daughter.

Doug, a chemist, saw the need to simplify lab instruments and methods.

“It wasted a significant amount of time and took away from the chemistry processes,” Amanda said. “By making things easier, Optimize products allow scientists to focus on research testing and discovery in the lab.”

One of Doug Ford’s first and most notable inventions was the OPTI-MAX® Check Valve which regulates and introduces fluid into HPLC instruments. Ultimately, the company optimized the way HPLC and Mass Spectrometry instruments were used around the world.

The family business remains grounded in the values and principles of its founders and adheres to the highest standards for business ethics.

Environmental stewardship, healthcare and education are core values of the family. Early on, Optimize was asked to sell products to South Africa. At the time, South Africa still held anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in prison. The Fords declined to sell in the country. Before Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification existed, Optimize built its Oregon City facility to LEED standards.

Amanda said her parents have consistently chosen to use their business to make a stand, and it’s taught she and her brother, Ian Ford, to be responsible global citizens. Optimize is a small firm with 28 employees.

“We are close as a family and a company, too,” she said. “It’s empowering.”

Once a month, the Ford family gets together to discuss the company’s direction, goals and opportunities. Family members work on different aspects of the company – Doug is responsible for patents, research and development. Lisa is in charge of company benefits and guides philanthropy and community engagement. Ian is in charge of manufacturing, operations and manages the instrument replacement parts. Amanda leads Global sales and marketing.

Prior to joining the family business, Amanda and Ian were encouraged to further their education and experiences outside of Optimize. Ian received a degree in Organizational Psychology and Amanda earned degrees in Fine Arts and Business and later received an International MBA from the University of Denver.

Their experiences outside of Optimize have brought a new perspective to the business.

They competed and worked in the snow sports industry, commercial fished in Alaska and helped develop sustainable businesses throughout Africa while working with the United States Agency for International Development – cultivating a fascination for innovation and unique problem-solving.

Amanda said its more important in a family business to do due diligence when proposing new products or ideas.

“We have a lot of trust and a lot of respect for one another,” she said. “We’re not afraid to ask, ‘Why?’ It’s harder, but it’s more gratifying.”