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Virent’s New CEO Talks Tesoro Purchase, Company Culture, and More

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at, “What’s the optimal plant to build?” your medium- and long-term view of the economics of those two products is what will play out.

X: Do you expect things to feel any different working at a company that’s much smaller than Shell and BP?

SO: Yeah, it’s definitely a different feel. If I think about my own development and leadership growth, it’s a different culture to work in. I look at the ways I can get the best out of people in whatever culture I’m in.

But yeah, a lot of differences between a big company like Shell or BP, where you have huge amounts of resources [under] the same umbrella and brand, versus a more startup feel to a company that’s much smaller. People wear more hats. There are more people multitasking.

But I think the other nice benefit of the relationship with Tesoro purchasing Virent at the end of last year is that I think we also have access to a lot of the capabilities and the expertise that Tesoro brings to the table, which is a huge benefit as well, I think. I look at it as it’s really the best of both worlds.

X: During your time at Shell and BP, were you ever involved with onboarding a startup that had recently been acquired by one of the larger companies?

SO: Both companies do a lot of mergers and acquisitions. In some cases, when a company buys another company, there’s a full integration where you are really looking for the new company to become part of the fabric and fiber of the parent company. In other cases, the larger companies will actually hold it more as a subsidiary that’s more autonomous.

X: Based on what Lee Edwards—whom you replaced as CEO of Virent—told Xconomy just after the deal was announced (“Tesoro is clearly aware of the benefits of being nimble and innovative, given [Virent’s] foundation”), it seems like the company will still have quite a bit of autonomy.

SO: I think that’s right. When the folks from Tesoro came to recruit me, they were clear that … Virent has got a strong reputation in the industry, and they wanted to make sure that the entrepreneurial spirit and the culture of the startup was preserved.

Also, having someone who could link back into the larger corporation to make sure that we took advantage of the resources that Tesoro could bring to bear to help with the ultimate commercialization of the technology. So that’s absolutely the intent, is to keep Virent’s … culture and startup mentality and kind of flexibility.

X: Are you able to comment on what the expected timeline is for commercializing Virent’s technology?

SO: In general I’ve kind of trained myself to not talk about commercialization timelines, for all kinds of reasons. I think that we’ve got some development work to do. We certainly want to get the technology to market as fast as possible.

X: You mentioned the prospect of Virent building its own plant. Is that something that’s already happening? If not, do you know if the facility would likely be constructed in Wisconsin?

SO: No. The plant is kind of the end of the commercialization [process]. The end product is to build the first commercial plant.

I also wouldn’t comment on the location. All those end up being commercially sensitive pieces … Next Page »

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