Haskel’s 75 Years of Milestones & What’s Next: An Interview with Steve Learney

With Haskel hitting its 75th anniversary this year, we sat down with the organization’s General Manager Steve Learney to recap some of the milestones in high-pressure solutions. He also shares his perspective on some of the fastest-growing markets, including hydrogen mobility.

Read what Steve had to say!

You have been with Haskel for 15 years. What are the significant milestones or turning points you’ve seen in that time?

A big thing for me has been working through the change in ownership, from corporate United Technologies to private equity under Accudyne, back to corporate-owned with Ingersoll Rand. We started as a family business, and it’s important to maintain that feeling. We have been a reliable constant in the market and those changes allowed us to innovate. Because Accudyne is a private equity group, they recognized the benefit of investing in products and having something new to bring to our partners. That changed the dynamic and we accelerated investment in R&D, which led to the development of H-Drive, our new generation of hydraulic driven gas boosters. When Haskel launched H-Drive it was the first product launch of many.

That opened the door for our engineers to expand the product line beyond just our traditional pumps and compressors, really showcasing our engineering expertise—from the launch of our electric servo drive compression system, Q-Drive, building on the H-Drive gas booster, to now launching Nano for hydrogen refuelling. We're committed to continuously developing new technologies.

I’ve always been a believer in investing in R&D—it changes the conversation with the market and makes you a better partner. Now more than ever with Ingersoll Rand, that strong product development pipeline increases the value we bring to our customers.

When I joined, 1/3 of our global business was in the oil and gas segment of the energy sector. When you come fresh into a business, it’s important to assess where the business is coming from, and where risk exists. It’s been a 15-year journey of diversifying the industry portfolio through growth in aerospace & defense and the emerging hydrogen mobility market. We are still energy-focused, but now on renewables.

It's already been an exciting year in those growing markets for us, hydrogen in particular. We are now seeing a convergence of hydrogen in the UK into an energy business. We recently received the first order for zero-emissions solutions from a company in the UK to trial for 100% hydrogen into domestic gas supply. The pilot program for 300 homes is 20 miles from my house. I’m working closely with a member of the board to identify synergies and determine what Haskel can teach sister companies about the hydrogen mobility market.

What are some of your shining moments—the times you were most proud to work for Haskel?

When we provided the oxygen gas booster equipment for the cave rescue of the Thailand youth soccer team—it doesn’t get much better than that.

I think about people. We just promoted Stacey Ramirez to Plant Manager at the Burbank site. She was working in shipping when I joined and showed high potential. We invested in her development and now she’s heading up our biggest manufacturing plant.

We have similar employee stories throughout our global locations. Graham Fox is the Operations Manager in the UK—he was aftermarket manager when I joined. Our Human Resources Manager, Nicola Miller, joined a month after me and is now a Global Manager. I like to look at what we’ve done to support our own people.

Q-Drive, our new electric servo-driven gas compression system, is a landmark product; it was almost a paradigm shift for the business. There was a push to come up with something novel—then it clicked, why can’t we do an electric product? I was running a plastic business when electric injection molding machines were launched. Hydraulics was being phased out and, as an air-driven company, it became limiting. Our wheels started turning:

  • Where does the air come from? The compressor.
  • Where does the energy come from? Electric
  • We are an electric-driven company—Let’s cut out the middlemen and create our own solution.

Q-Drive is a major advancement for the industry, not just Haskel. In 10 years, electric-driven technologies will be a significant part of the business and once people have it, they will wonder why hydraulic was ever the standard. Haskel is setting a new standard in compression technology.

The last few years have brought about a lot of change—the divestiture to Ingersoll Rand, the growth in hydrogen mobility, changes in tariffs, and COVID-19. What did you see coming, and what surprised you?

Coronavirus, of course, took everyone by surprise. I don’t know that we did anything special. We have two manufacturing sites that are capable of doing the same thing, which has always provided safety for keeping supplies going to customers. Apart from blips in the supply chain, we didn’t miss a beat in Sunderland or Burbank.

We have always managed to keep a family feel to Haskel—keeping close relationships with employees by overcommunicating. Throughout COVID-19 changes, the response from employees was fantastic. We transitioned to work-from-home with no pushback and reacted to individual needs to keep motivation up. The relationship we maintain and protect within our company helped us get through smoothly.

In terms of the changes in ownership, Haskel team members have a lot of resilience, and we have such a strong reputation—that has allowed a lot of support from leadership.

What do you expect in the next 5 years? 10 years?

On the hydrogen front, we are at the beginning of a 30-year growth curve. The major countries are targeting 2050 for net-zero emissions, and hydrogen is the best way for us to get there. If you look at renewables, hydrogen offers the best benefits. Right now, we are roughly where the first builders of automobiles in the 1900s were today. Hydrogen refuelling is not like making a pump and selling the same thing for 20 years; it’s continuous innovation. The market ranges from $10s of billions to $100s of billions. We are one of a handful of companies with both compression technology and full refuelling system capabilities. It’s an exciting market—even my kids are interested in talking about what I do!

What about the other markets you serve – aerospace/ground support and energy? What is the next big move?

We are investing in growth here and have just appointed a new leader to head this up. We got an introduction from BAE Systems to the F35 consortium, and 15 years later, we’re so proud of the success of that program. We have plans to continue growth in these spaces and Haskel already has a great platform and solid customer relationships to build on. We were nominated for best vendor last year by BAE and are continually striving for that mark of excellence.

And you personally? What is intriguing to you at this stage?

I want to leave a legacy and the legacy is this: I’ve taken a good business and have made it more resilient and more profitable, increased employment, our safety record is second to none, and we get positive feedback from both our workforce and our customers. All these things are important and part of a legacy. When I’m retired and I fill my hydrogen car at a Haskel station, our investment in hydrogen is one achievement that I can point out to my grandchildren. I’ve always been an environmentalist, and even though I am a skeptic at heart, hydrogen is the way forward.

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