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Medardo Monzon Featured

8:43am EDT November 26, 2002
Out of college, Medardo Monzon began his career by starting a small specialty chemical company. Twenty-five years and stints with three multinational companies later, the Colombia native has come nearly full circle.

Monzon has taken on the job of CEO of Nanova LLC, a spin-off of Nanomat Inc., a North Huntingdon company that develops nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are substances that are restructured at atomic and molecular levels to alter certain physical characteristics, making them more efficient for use as ingredients in a variety of products.

Nanomat was formed to manufacture and market two nanomaterials, NanoTalc, derived from talc, and NanoCalc, made from calcium carbonate. The materials are used in a variety of products, from paint, where they can improve coverage, to plastics, where they can increase strength-to-weight ratios or reduce permeability.

Monzon worked in research and development and management positions for Dow Chemical Co., Equistar Corp., and most recently for International Paper Co., where he managed its specialty packaging division, a $450 million operation with about 1,200 employees.

His initial tasks at Nanova will be to formulate a business plan to secure funding for the new company and to identify a location for a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

While the rewards of working at multinationals are considerable, Monzon says he is looking forward to the responsibility he'll have for building Nanova virtually from the ground up. In a large company, responsibility can be spread around and it's not always clear who holds it.

Says Monzon: "My view is that the level of ultimate accountability is not as significant as in a situation like this, where you're starting up and every decision counts."

What is your business background?

I've worked in the chemical and allied products industry for about 25 years. Half of my experience has been in an R & D environment and the other half has been in the commercial environment -- business management, marketing and sales management and, most recently, general management.

I worked for three companies: Dow Chemical, Equistar, the largest producer of polyethylene in this country, and for the last eight years with International Paper Co., primarily in its chemical division, Arizona Chemical. For the last two-and-a-half years, I was the general manager of the specialty packaging business of International Paper.

How did you come to the opportunity with Nanova?

A friend saw an ad on Monster.com and he knew of my interest. I've always seen myself as a product of the chemical industry, and my career at International Paper took me to a paper-type business.

I always wanted to come back to the chemical industry, and I wanted to come back to the forefront of it. When I saw what this was about ... it seemed like a great opportunity.

What's the relationship between Nanomat and Nanova?

Nanomat is a technology incubator company which was established in 1995 and has become a leader manufacturer of essentially custom-made nanomaterials, a wide variety of nanomaterials, tungsten coated with nickel and cobalt, gold, boron, you name it.

The business model is to continue to develop technology, nanomaterials essentially, and when they believe that they have something of relevance that can be taken to the marketplace, they will spin off one or more product families into a company. So the mission of Nanomat remains that of technology development and not immersed in the commercial aspects of the business -- building plants, and organization, etc.

Nanova's going to commercialize two products, two families of nanomaterials that are very, very well-known to industry on a nano scale. One is talc, NanoTalc, and the second is calcium carbonate, NanoCalc.

The addressable market for these two nanomaterials on a global basis is $2 billion. There are a handful of competitors, so the opportunity to build a business is significant.

This opportunity is significantly different from your experience with large companies.

That's a large part of what attracted me to it. Right out of college, I owned my own business, a small specialty chemical laboratory in Bogota, Colombia.

So I've always seen myself as an entrepreneur at heart, and always wanted to start something. This is a tremendous opportunity to build something from scratch, this ability to bring value to an organization and build an organization. That's an experience I haven't had here in the United States.

I've worked in the well-established companies. When you think about it, yes, you get a lot of experience in those companies, but I would submit that the degree of freedom and risk that you can take are a lot less. Everything gets approved three or four times by 10 different people, different committees.

My view is that the level of ultimate accountability is not as significant as in a situation like this, where you're starting up and every decision counts. You can't afford to make a wrong decision. I thought quite a bit about what it would mean, rolling up the sleeves and doing things that other people in the big organizations would do.

I guess the other element was that I got a bit tired of large corporate America and wanted to find something where the independence is tremendous. There's a lot of reliance on myself to get things done, and to me, the size of a corporation's not that important.

What is necessary to make Nanova successful?

We need to raise funds, so the majority of my time has been spent putting together a credible business plan that we can take to both strategic investors and venture capitalist firms to raise the capital required to get the company off the ground.

I think the key challenge is, can I create enough value and can I deliver the materials at a cost that is sufficiently low to generate a good return for everyone. How to reach: Nanomat, www.nanomat.com