4 minutes with… Neil Burns, CEO, P2 Science

April 27, 2015 |

2a06f28Tell us about your company and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.

P2 makes renewable specialty chemicals from vegetable feedstocks, using a proprietary form of ozonolysis, a chemical process. We are operating on the Kg scale using a continuous reactor system developed jointly with our engineering partners, Desmet Ballestra sPa of Italy.

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

My role today is to ensure the company completes the installation of our first 300 MT/yr. manufacturing plant which will supply commercial products to the flavor and fragrance industry and large trial quantities of intermediates to the polymer and cosmetics industries. Key to this new plant project is the completion of our B round of fundraising which is underway at the moment and looking very promising.

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

The industry must match the hyperbole and buzz with actual commercial production volumes of products sold to real, unsubsidized, customers. Or, better yet, dial back the rhetoric until reality catches up (see next question).

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

If I could change one thing, it would be the hyperbole. Hype and buzz are for sports and entertainment, not industry. Much of what is written about the Advanced Bioeconomy is reminiscent of a WWE Smackdown commercial. When communications by and about the industry read like a Dow Chemical 10-K, we will know progress has been made.

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 single biggest motivator was the opportunity to work on new processes and products. After a couple of decades spent largely in the surfactants market, the opportunity to commercialize innovation was very attractive.

Where are you from? 

I grew up in the Northeast of England, went to college at York University and have lived just over half my life now in the USA.

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

My undergrad major was Chemistry from York in the UK. I quickly moved over to the business side and get an MBA from Wharton. There was not a lot of conscious career planning for me back then. I liked Chemistry and thought I could make a living from it. I was right.

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 first boss in the full-time workforce went out of his way to give me difficult and visible assignments. I will never forget that. In my spare time, I sing in a choir and our choirmaster exemplifies the real “continuous improvement” ethos. He cannot stop thinking and talking about ways to sound better. I try to apply that attitude and practice to my professional pursuits. To the extent I am successful, then I know P2 will be a succcess.

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

Always have a plan B. Unless you actually are Cortez*, don’t “burn your boats”. This Cortez tale is a great story, but in real life, you always need options, for yourself, your team and family.

*Popular legend has it that Cortez, in his 1519 expedition to what is now Mexico, actually burned the expedition’s ships to encourage his men to press inland and think no more about heading home.

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

As noted above, I sing in a choir. I also ski and golf.

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

The bible and a blank notebook, with a pen (if that is allowed). For the 3rd book, I really don’t know. I suppose anything by C. S. Lewis would do.

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

I read ICIS Chemical Business and ChemicalWeek for professional purposes. I also read the Economist, although have been known to fall behind by as much as a month. I’ll also dip into the works of Rudyard Kiping now and again. You’d be amazed if you are not familiar with him. I also recently read an introduction to the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

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

Zermatt (Switzerland)

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Category: Million Minds

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