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Digging through balance sheets and income and cash flow statements is a tedious but necessary part of being an investor. However, there are integral metrics to each investment that don't show up on a piece of paper -- and some are difficult to measure at all. One such intangible is management. Having a strong leadership team in place is always an important aspect of building a competitive and market-leading company.
The individuals at the helm are even more important to a disruptive developmental-stage company. Luckily for Solazyme (NASDAQ: SZYM ) , its management team has just the right mix of experience and diversity to accomplish the company's goals. Wondering why the company has yet to stumble? Management has a lot to do with it. Let's take a closer look at the key people driving the company forward.
Co-founders fail up
For every start-up that keeps its founder(s) close and succeeds beyond investors' wildest dreams, there is another that fails miserably. So while I won't make any outrageous claims, I will say that keeping founders around for the long haul can have a compounding effect as a company outgrows its training wheels. Founders may not enter their first day of entrepreneurism with much experience, but what they learn along the way gives them something to draw upon when facing obstacles later down the road.
Jonathan Wolfson and Dr. Harrison Dillon, the respective CEO and president, decided to start a life-sciences company all the way back in their undergraduate years at Emory University. They probably didn't expect to meet up again years later in a garage in California, but that's exactly where Solazyme was born. The two knew they wanted to unlock the power of algae after hearing about its potential to be set on fire (piquing their interest in chemical applications), so naturally they targeted strains that grew in open ponds.
After initial development they came to a stark conclusion: Fuels from open-pond algae would cost some serious coin (in the late 1990s, anyway) and wouldn't be close to economically viable. Rather than scrapping their dream for commercializing algae at the first sign of trouble, the two turned their focus to algae strains that could be grown in a more traditional bioreactor. The platform that exists today can be directly attributed to their decision to turn failure into a launching pad. Investors wouldn't want anyone else at the top of the depth chart.
Engineering a bright future
Solazyme left the laboratory long ago, but it still needs to put a few more puzzle pieces in place before it runs on all cylinders. CTO Peter J. Licari and Mark Warner, senior VP of engineering, will be leading the charge to put the company's platform at the top of the industry. Licari has two decades of experience at UMass, BASF, and Merck. Warner has several decades of experience, most recently leading the construction of the 100 million gallon-per-year biodiesel facility at Grays Harbor for Imperium Renewables -- the largest in the country. Who better to consult Solazyme during its three-continent biorefinery binge?
What good is having towering bioreactors installed if you can't put products on the market? Enter Chief Commercialization Officer Rogerio Manso, who is directly involved in everything from obtaining sugars to selling finished products. Manso hails from Brazilian energy giant Petrobras and undoubtedly has an impressive list of connections in Brazil -- the most competitive market for renewable chemicals.
Then there's Frederic Stoeckel, senior VP and general manager of health sciences, who has led the Algenist product line from a few new-kid-on-the-block bottles of alguronic acid to a burgeoning force in the skin-care segment. Solazyme's success in recent years with its health-sciences division can be largely attributed to Stoeckel's experience with the natural skin-care brand Melvita from L'Occitane and various positions at L'Oreal.
Don't forget expansion
Few people give much thought to how well a company expands its business -- instead focusing on overall growth. By that I mean the quality and qualifications of new hires and the management of a multiplying workforce. Growing sales a bajillion times over the previous year means little if employees don't have a productive workplace.
Jane Marvin, senior VP of human resources, probably doesn't get many shout-outs, but she'll deserve one soon. She'll be responsible for growing Solazyme's workforce out of development mode and into big-boy territory, all while continuing to attract top-level talent into new positions. Marvin has held similar roles at Ross Stores, AT&T Wireless, and Covad Communications and will be crucial in guiding the company's culture to maturation while preserving core values.
Foolish bottom line
Investors have enjoyed early success from Solazyme thus far, but sometimes I don't think management gets as much credit as the algae does. Keeping the streak of milestone accomplishments alive rests squarely on these leaders' shoulders. If I were an investor here, I'd feel pretty good about that.