By Michelle Grainger
When John Tao retired from an executive job for the second time in March 2011, it didn’t take long before his wife let him know he was upsetting the domestic equilibrium they’d long enjoyed. So he channeled his considerable energies into the creation of an open-innovation consultancy and, more recently, an appointment as a CIMS Industrial Fellow.
John, who spent 33 years with Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and three with Weyerhaeuser, is now CEO of a consultancy called O-Innovation Advisors. Clients can access his experiences in open innovation, technology licensing/ intellectual property management, and government contracting, which a former colleague called the “ultimate triple threat.”
“My experience is in the area of open innovation, partnering with organizations of all sizes. We have a virtual team of experts to call upon depending on the client’s needs,” said John, who makes his home in Allentown, Pa., not far from the headquarters of his longtime employer, Air Products.
John has been an advocate of open innovation since before he heard Henry Chesbrough, the UC-Berkeley professor who first coined the term about a decade ago, speak at a meeting of the Industrial Research Institute (IRI).
“Some companies resist open innovation because change is difficult,” he said. “But companies with huge R &D investments, companies like IBM and Bell Labs—those days are gone. Nobody can afford to hire all the brainpower anymore, which is where turning to open innovation comes in.”
(For more on John’s views of open innovation, check out this interview of him in the Innovation Management Report.)
John has made innovation his career since he joined Air Products as a newly minted Ph.D., serving as a research engineer in the cryogenic systems divisions. At the time of his “first” retirement about seven years ago, John was the corporate director of technology partnerships. Among other contributions, he participated in the commercialization of a new family of polymers. At Weyerhaeuser, which brought John and his family to Washington State for three years, he served as vice president of open innovation. Over his career, he has published/presented more than 90 papers and has nine patents to his name.
Yet he hasn’t really slowed down. Being his own boss gives him more time to give back to his profession by serving on committees for professional organizations and helping judge the merits of grant applications for organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF)and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S Department of Agriculture and serving on Advisory Committees for the DOE and the NSF.
One thing he’s not doing anymore is volunteering on the Eastern Pennsylvania Ski Patrol, something he did for about 30 years. Introduced to skiing while a grad student at Carnegie Mellon University, John came to love it as both a sport and an avocation.
Over the years he put his EMT-type training to good use helping treat and stabilize luckless skiers suffering from an array of injuries, mostly bumps, bruises and broken bones but occasionally a head trauma, which he called a “scary” experience.
These days, his trips to the slope are for recreational purposes only.