CEO Changes in Planned Succession at San Diego’s Sapphire Energy
I thought the best presentation at the “Rock Stars of Innovation Summit” a few weeks ago was a chat between two co-founders of San Diego’s Sapphire Energy—CEO Jason Pyle and Steve Briggs, the UC San Diego cellular biologist and a member of Sapphire’s advisory board.
It turns out that was Pyle’s last public appearance in San Diego as Sapphire’s CEO.
In a management transition announcement released this afternoon, Pyle is stepping down as CEO, effective today. Cynthia “C.J.” Warner, who has co-led the algal biofuels startup since joining the company in 2009 as president and chairman, is taking over as CEO and will continue as chairman. Pyle, an entrepreneur and bioengineer with a doctorate and medical degree from Stanford University, will remain as a member of Sapphire’s board.
As Pyle told me in 2008, Sapphire began in 2006 as a handful of venture investors started looking for the best biofuels technology to invest in. During that process, Pyle said he realized that ethanol-based biofuels would require building a duplicate fuel pipeline and trucking system throughout the United States because such fuels cause corrosive damage to conventional petroleum pipelines and tanker trucks. But algae-based crude could be used as a “drop-in” substitute for petroleum-based fossil fuels without requiring any changes in the existing fuel transportation infrastructure.
Sapphire says Pyle’s vision of “green crude” and “drop-in replacement fuels” have become two of the most central elements in the national pursuit of a global, sustainable alternative to crude oil imports. The company, which recently raised $144 million in additional venture financing, is building an algal farm and demonstration processing plant in Luna County, NM, known officially as the Integrated Algal BioRefinery (and unofficially as “the Green Crude Farm.”)
In the company’s statement, Pyle says, “Now that we have recruited the most experienced Board of Directors, executive team and scientists of any company in the industry, I’ve decided that the time is right for me to move on to my next endeavor, which I will announce shortly.”
Before joining Sapphire, Warner was a group vice president overseeing global refining at BP. She has spent more than 27 years in energy, refining, and transportation, and “she is very much a big operations person,” according to Tim Zenk, a Sapphire spokesman. The CEO succession was planned, Zenk added.
“Over the last year or so, as we grew and continued to raise more money, it became clear that we needed to have a succession plan ready,” Zenk says. “After five years, people want to go on and do other things.”