Tom Schryver '93, MBA '02, CFO, e2e Materials: Championing Sustainable Building Materials
by Chrysan Tung '11
That same day at work, he reviewed plans for fulfilling obligations relating to a grant; looked at a draft patent; presented to a loan board; worked on leasing space; checked on their raw materials supply; and paid bills.
"My days are extraordinarily varied," he says. "The opportunity to have a lot of variety more than outweighs the fact that the work can be mundane at times. And working for a small organization, even the mundane has a clear and direct impact, which is gratifying to see."
Based in Ithaca, e2e Materials focuses on producing petroleum-free, biodegradable composites, which are stronger, lighter and cheaper than composites filling landfills today. The best part is that these eco-friendly materials have endless applications, including furniture, shelving, doors, and even automobiles.
Majoring in history and government as an undergraduate student at Cornell, Schryver has cultivated an understanding in human behavior and long-term trends. "I think any decent businessperson has to be concerned about long-term trends. And that's what 'sustainability' is to me."
He explains: "It's impossible to look into the future and not think about the changes that will be brought on as free enterprise in countries like China and India lead to a huge growth in the numbers of people that have disposable incomes … You don't have to have a crystal ball to see that pretty soon, they, too, would like their IKEA furniture, and that when they do, it'll be difficult to have enough trees to make all those cabinets, desks, and coffee tables."
From this perspective, thinking and acting sustainably is not just a sound business strategy; it's indispensable. "I find myself chafing at the term 'sustainable business,'" says Schryver. "In my experience, even folks at companies that green 'true believers' would prefer to think of as evil are entirely aware of and concerned about these long-term trends. These investments aren't being made because they want to make Birkenstock-wearing Ithacans happy; it's because they believe that these decisions are good business in the long run."
"As a student of business, I don't think of 'sustainability' as a distinct subspecialty like 'finance' or 'marketing,'" continues Schryver. "'Sustainability people' should still know how to discount a cash flow. I give the folks at the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson School, like Director Mark Milstein, a lot of credit for not positioning sustainability as an alternative discipline but rather a way of looking at businesses holistically."
Schryver share what he values in his Johnson School education in his advice to current students: "First off, use your time in school to gain a genuine sense of comfort with the basics. Debits and credits are never going to be obsolete. And, while you may never again calculate a company's weighted average cost of capital, the skills you gain while learning how to do so will be applicable to a myriad of problems. In your career you will be confronted with a variety of analytical challenges - the more tools in your toolbox and the more comfortable you are wielding them, the better off you will be.
"Second, invest time in observing people. The most successful people I've seen have had an uncanny ability to understand the situation of the person that they're interacting with - a sales prospect, a potential or current employee, a potential investor - and adjust their message and behavior accordingly."