4 minutes with… Richard McCombs, Managing Director, Asia West

May 12, 2015 |

0e13b91Tell us about your company and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.

Asia West is all about the challenges and excitement of doing business in China, particularly for the Advanced Bioeconomy. Sitting in a hotel in China, it is difficult to describe how exciting and yet challenging it is to do business in China. I am in awe of how much opportunity there is here”whether it is biomass conversion or other cleantech

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

Since I retired as CEO of MBA Polymers in 2011, my two partners from MBA and I have been dedicated to helping Western cleantech companies expand into China–including raising Chinese equity if needed to facilitate this expansion. A significant threat to the emerging Bioeconomy companies is the financial pitfall which I call the “Valley of Death,” i.e. the growth from pilot scale to commercial scale. Typically what happens in the early stages is that a company is full of technological innovation and enthusiasm, and that they can raise seed money or Series A financing. Then, when they’re ready to build the first commercial scale plant or commercialize, financing is much more difficult to secure. Our objective at Asia West is to facilitate the financing for companies growing through this Valley of Death.

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

The industry must find ways to finance the commercialization of new technologies in biochemical companies. If Western venture capital is not willing to finance early stage cleantech, then Chinese venture capital, who is willing to invest at this stage, will reap the rewards. At Asia West, we align the interests of entrepreneurs and investors.

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

Persuade Congress to recognize that climate change is real so that industry will be supported in harnessing human ingenuity to solve these serious challenges without harming nature and the biological support systems that we, and our grandchildren, will need in order to have anything like the life we enjoy now.

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 scale and speed of development in China astonishes me even after doing business in China for over 10 years. However that speed has come at the cost of severe depletion of natural resources. Having the opportunity to reduce waste of natural resources through utilization of biomass as feedstock for fuels and biochemicals is very exciting.

Where are you from? 

My wife says my home is on a plane”or in a hotel, but I actually, really enjoy living in Marin County, California.

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

I chose Economics because I didn’t understand anything else. I was fortunate enough to attend Amherst College and Stanford Business School

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?

I had a boss at an earlier time in my career who had three major qualities which I have tried to emulate:

1) If you are going to ask someone to do a job, let him do it”even if he/she makes mistakes

2) Relax, it is only business

3) If you are not solving a problem, you are not being sufficiently creative

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

1) Persistence pays (and I mean real, long term, determined persistence)

2) Persistence, although a bit of luck helps

3) Persistence, but praying doesn’t hurt either

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

Ah! What do you mean “Time away from work?”

When possible, I love sailing, in the San Francisco Bay mostly. My wife and I also hike in the area and love bird watching in Point Reyes.

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

1. The Bible

2. How to win friends and influence people (you never know who might join you on the island)

3. Winston Churchill speeches (so I could increase my vocabulary so that when I get off the island I will be more literate)

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

I read the Economist magazine and Financial Times consistently, but also environmental journalism. My wife is an environmental journalist and I read and really enjoy her work.

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

We lived in London while I was building the UK facility for MBA Polymers, and we loved that old and yet still vibrant city, with side trips to the English countryside.

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Category: Million Minds

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