I worked at a large research center for a large chemical/oil company for 12 years (130 employees) right out of my post-doc. One of the advantages for working at a large company was that I was exposed to a lot of different areas of the business, from the commodity side (we had groups that went down to Houston and Louisiana to troubleshoot our production facilities) to basic research developing a line of specialty chemicals, so I developed a lot of process/scale-up expertise.Thanks to Larry F. for his contribution.
In 2001 or so, headquarters decided to get out of the specialty chemical business (despite spending $250MM in the previous 5 years, but that is another story), laid off the entire research staff and closed the building. Three of the senior employees bought the building and all the equipment for a song and started a small custom manufacturing business with about 15-20 former employees.
Flash forward to today: we have about 50 employees and I am still in the lab most days (I am 57 years old). With a small company, there are no real titles, everyone pitches in as needed (including the owners). Being a contract lab, what comes through our door on a regular basis spans all of chemical research. Despite my formal training in organic chemistry, I have tackled projects for our customers spanning inorganic, organometallic and polymer chemistry as well as the occasional organic target compound. I have made quantum dots, metal oxide nano crystals, catalysts, and the like.
Our company works with a range of clients: small startups that don't have facilities to generate larger quantities of material, up to some of the largest chemical companies in the world that for some reason do not want to do kilo lab or pilot work on the materials they develop! I also help with any production problems that may come up in our scale up facility. My tenure (and trust of the owners) has afforded me the ability to work more or less independent; that is, when a customer calls in a request to do something, I talk to them, generate a price quote, do the lab work and be the key contact person during the lifetime of the project.
I think I was pretty lucky, in that the owners liked me from my time dealing with them at the larger company and thus bought me on when we went private. I am also lucky in that the variability of the work coming in keeps me interested in what I do, there is absolutely no routine here. I joke that I plan to work until I'm 90, but I see a 10 year horizon for at least being in the lab.
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