4 minutes with…Basil Karampelas, President, American Process

December 2, 2014 |

karempelasTell us about your organization and it’s role in the advanced bioeconomy.

We’ve developed 2 proprietary biorefinery technologies producing low-cost cellulosic sugars from non-food based biomass. Our Green Power+ technology produces low-cost cellulosic sugars from the hemicelluloses. AVAP technology produces cellulosic sugars from cellulose and hemicelluloses. Our GP+ demo is in Alpena, MI; our AVAP demo is in Georgia

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

As President of API, I wear a lot of hats, but my primary role is recruiting and retaining exceptional talent for our company. My focus continues to be finding talented people and then bringing them into the organization. Once a candidate is identified and phone screened, I run the interviewing process, focusing on both technical competency and growth potential for our organization. I recruit experienced hires as well as people graduating from universities such as Georgia Tech and Michigan Tech. Once we have people on board, I am also responsible for the implementation and management of their annual performance review program. Every employee at our company has an action plan with specific goals and objectives that align with our overall company goals. I also have administrative responsibility for our European offices in Athens, Greece and Cluj, Romania.

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

I believe that in order for the industry to be viable, there must be multiple successful companies collaborating with end-users to produce biofuels, biomaterials and bio-based chemicals at or near the capacity for their facilities. If we have only one or two successful companies in our space, we’ll just have another business school case study!

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

My first wish would be to see consistency and stability of governmental policies as they pertain to the environment. That should be the foundation upon which our industry is built. As a second wish, I would love to see more educated investors in the space who understand the 1) timeline and 2) the capital requirements for these types of projects.

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?

For me personally, it was the idea that I could join a technology-based company where my finance and HR background and skill set could make a tangible, measurable difference as opposed to being a small fish in a big pond where my contributions would get lost in the background noise.

Where are you from? 

Like Neil Diamond, Jerry Seinfeld, and John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever, I’m from Brooklyn (Bay Ridge), New York. However, I grew up in Avon and Simsbury, Connecticut, two bedroom communities near Hartford.

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

I was a History/Economics major at Stanford and returned there to get my MBA. I chose Stanford because I was ambivalent about becoming a chemical engineer or lawyer when I was in high school and Stanford was a place where I could study to become both. Ironically I am neither a lawyer nor a ChemE but I share an office with someone who is both!

Who do you consider your mentors. What have you learned from them?

Our CEO Dr. Theodora Retsina has been a great mentor to me. I’ve learned a lot from Theodora about what it takes to develop a technology from pilot to commercial scale and how to balance the requirements of commercial partners, investors and the team that you have assembled to accomplish the task at hand. Theodora has a “never give up and don’t take no for an answer” attitude that permeates our organization.

The other person that was a great mentor to me was John Pittenger, who hired me at Koch Industries. John is a brilliant guy who was the first person to help me to really think strategically and act like an owner. I also learned a lot from him about how to motivate and inspire your direct reports. John is also one of the funniest people I know.

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

I once worked for a firm that had a lot of financial difficulties, and the attitude among the employees was pretty negative (and definitely contagious). It was very tempting to keep the negative cycle going but I learned that if I approached the difficulties with a positive attitude, it would increase my probability of ultimate success. That helped me to exit in a way that I made the most of a bad situation.

It was also during that period that I really had an epiphany about the importance of family. Having a wife and three kids (9, 5 and 3 years old) to come home to can make even the worst day at work bearable.

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

I’m a bit of a travel fanatic. I often contribute to frequent flyer blogs and have managed to have a lot of great vacations with my family using points and miles.

What 3 books would you take to read, if stranded on a desert island?

1. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert Pirsig
2. “The Odyssey” by Homer
3. Any collection of short stories by PG Wodehouse

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

Theodora recently gave me “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” to read. It’s by Ben Horowitz.

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

My favorite city on earth is Sydney, Australia, and I was fortunate enough to live there for a year and also to honeymoon there. My favorite place, however, has to be the Greek Islands. I got to take the whole family to Santorini for the first time in the summer of 2013.

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Category: Million Minds

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