4 minutes with… Keith Brazzell, Chief Operating Officer, Genera Energy

March 23, 2015 |

03935bdTell us about your company and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.

Genera Energy Inc. supplies biomass feedstocks for the advanced bio-based industries, offering industrial scale agriculture biomass ranging from full service energy crop production to customizable supply chain solutions and managing biomass supply. Leaders looking for cellulose feedstock often first consult with Genera. We then prepare the supply.

Tell us about your role and what you are focused on in the next 12 months.

Physically and industrially, I grew up in corn country from Indiana and Illinois to Ohio before moving to East Tennessee. My primary role has always been to establish the latest energy project or latest R&D focus ready for commercialization. I started in cogeneration before going deep into carbohydrate technologies for food and industrial products developing large commercial projects and then managing the operation before moving to the next developing product. These were often sugars, starches, fermentations and polymer related activities.

After managing corn wet milling plants including ethanol and citric acid, I was asked to startup and manage the cellulosic ethanol business in Tennessee that is now wholly owned by DuPont. This is where it became clear that the most important aspect to solve in the future of bio-products was the biomass supply chain. My role is the execution and commercialization of this supply chain and to interface with customers and technology.

What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?  

We must understand who needs our products and why. Some people got into this industry because of a mandate or because of the science. We need to solve a need or strong desire from consumers. It is OK to help create the desire, but it must be there. The first milestone is when the industry recognizes the products and services needed in clear focus.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change? 

Unity! It will come without a magic wand or a snap of the fingers, but from what I can tell the industry still does not work together in one accord. The corn refiners association knows what their goals are and usually are all aligned. Our technology platforms may be too varying and we may try to cut out too many potential vendors that could help.

Of all the reasons that influenced you to join the Advanced Bioeconomy industry, what single reason stands out for you as still being compelling and important to you?  

The beauty of it all stands out. Where else can life itself, harnessing the power of the sun, pull CO2 out of thin air to put it into complex carbohydrates, proteins, alcohols, ions, waxes, oils, and fibers ready for delivery to mankind? For thousands of years man has abound with the intricacy supplied from agriculture. Let’s not stop now.

Where are you from? 

I was born in rural Indiana; an avid Bobby Knight fan. My folks bought an abandoned piece of property that people were trashing for $22 at a tax sale. We helped them build it with lakes and creeks into a marvelous piece of land that a millionaire would covet. We initially lived in a trailer while we hand-built Dad’s designed house.

What was your undergraduate major in college, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway?

I have a BS in Chemical Engineering at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. Why? Because it is one of the best engineering schools in the country in my opinion and, although expensive, I could save room and board cost by commuting. I loved math and science. It was my thing.

Who do you consider your mentors – could be personal, business, or just people you have read about and admire. What have you learned from them?

My parents without question were my best mentors for life always filled with wisdom and they cared enough to teach it whether or not I was listening. 7 brothers and sisters helped. I have had impressive managers over the years including now. Three of my past managers do things like send notes throughout the year, meet me for lunch, and travel hundreds of miles to come to my children’s weddings. Others also stay in touch.

I think what I have learned is especially two things. Never compromise standards yet be willing to learn new ideas. Neither assume people understand what you want nor that they have done it as you expected. If you really care about something, then you will follow-up and make sure things were understood and that it is being done how you expected. People are smart enough to see what you care about by what you pay attention to.

What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned during a period of adversity?  

The biggest lesson is to persevere, but not just using your own strength. True strength comes through trials and faith. Anyone can have a great attitude and push forward when everything is going right.

Adversity is where you either come through as gold in the end or you dissolve. Adversity is where you can watch those with standards and those who compromise them.

Life is a set of tests and, although fun, it is trying. Why work so hard and then let it all cave in over an event or a hardship? To me, then you have two serious problems instead of one. The one will pass, but the other will permeate you.

When you run, it is easier the second time; the further you go the first time. If you quit or faint, you are starting all over, or maybe worse, something took you backwards.

What hobbies do you pursue, away from your work in the industry?

I enjoy wood working or any design and build project. I’ve worked with youth for years, and I still enjoy sports although less aggressively. I like technology.

What are 3 books you’d want to have with you, if you were stranded on a desert island

1) The Bible

2) The Outward Bound

3) The Hobbit. The one I read as a kid.

What books or articles are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?  

I am looking through Jim Collins’ Good to Great again. It is very well done and helpful. I try to read the Bible daily or listen while I drive when I cannot. There are several blogs that I enjoy. They really are not related to industry, though. I read about every new article that I can find on biomass or customer technology.

What’s your favorite city or place to visit, for a holiday?  

Assisi, Italy from my wife and my 25th anniversary or maybe Sedona, Arizona from our 30th.

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Category: Million Minds

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