When BioAmber handed Fabrice Orecchioni a job opportunity, it was as if the company handed an artist a blank canvas—Orecchioni was given the chance to create and design something that could help the renewable chemicals company become a larger force in the industry. BioAmber’s innovative technology platform combines biotechnology and catalysis to convert renewable feedstock into building block materials that are used in a wide variety of everyday products, including plastics, paints, textiles, food additives, and personal care products. This cutting-edge mandate is what drew the chief operations officer to the organization.
“I joined BioAmber in 2012 to manage the operations at our demonstration plant in France with a new technology that first operated large scale there,” Orecchioni says. “I was the first employee in Sarnia, and I had to start everything from scratch to set up operations at this young company.”
In his role, he oversees capital engineering, procurement, and construction projects, including the $141 million succinic acid plant that was recently completed in Sarnia, Ontario, and managing overall operations, such as manufacturing and supply chain.
“With it being new, there was no need to adjust; you just needed to make sure you created the right organization to fit the needs,” Orecchioni says. The COO credits learning lean manufacturing as a young engineer in Japan for his success. “I’ve since made those principles mine, and they keep inspiring everything I’m doing. I’ve tried and translated them to biochemical processes and worked hard to implement them at BioAmber.”
Starting from a blank slate is nothing new to Orecchioni. As operations manager for the French company Abengoa Bioenergy, which produces ethanol, he led the start-up of a biofuel facility from scratch, creating an operations team as the plant was built.
“Creating the structures, thinking of how best to deliver very efficiently what it’s supposed to deliver—it’s something I really like. Your whole organization and processes have to be designed to deliver the best value to your customers and more broadly to the community. You cannot just copy-paste what was successful somewhere else, assuming this will work for you,” he says. “BioAmber and our business offers new technology in a new field, so there were no existing biochemical companies in the world that we could emulate. It’s all about inventing what will make us successful.”
Orecchioni admits that without all of these processes already created, there will be numerous challenges when starting major projects.
“You have to create a team and maintain everyone’s alignment while you don’t have business processes in place yet,” he says. “This requires a very heavy involvement because you have to compensate for the lack of formal structure until your processes are defined and in place. As the structure gets more and more mature, you can transition from what could be perceived as a micromanagement style to a management that is more performance-driven.”
Since the technology was new, Orecchioni had to begin prepping a team about what it was, how it worked, and its chief benefits long before the Sarnia plant was even operational. Two years before starting up, he began hiring people so they could learn, gel, and enjoy working together.
“Success starts with how you hire the right people,” Orecchioni says. “There aren’t a lot of people who know about biochemical processes, so you must train and engage them. You also need to prepare them for the challenges you will have to overcome to start a first-of-a-kind technology at large commercial scale.” Orecchioni says the key is to have an organization that is ready to tackle any problem, be it related to technology, supply chain, quality, or environmental.
Today, there are approximately sixty-five people at the $141 million Sarnia plant and about seventy people working in operations under Orecchioni’s leadership, including the corporate engineering team.
“I am very proud of the team we have hired,” admits Orecchioni. “I was employee number one and have hired everyone for the project, manufacturing, and supply chain; I see them in action, and it’s a very dedicated team. They work extremely hard—long hours, weekends—and they help this small company grow. There’s lots of pressure, but they have very good team spirit and work well together.”
That’s something he admits didn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build a team. “You need to create opportunities for people to spend time together outside of work, because when things go sideways and when pressure gets very high, it is important that people can remember the good times they had together,” says Orecchioni. This team spirit is integral for the young company to continue to grow sustainably.
“We are evolving in a brand new universe, and it is for us to write the future of this industry,” Orecchioni says. “We need to be successful—this new way to produce chemicals can make the difference for the future of our planet. Delivering value to our customers, respecting the environment and the community around us, and having our employees engaged and proud of what they are doing, this is our road map, and this is the essence of BioAmber. This is not only words on the paper—it’s real innovation.”