Jim "Stoney" Stonecipher

Stonecipher headshot

When Jim "Stoney" Stonecipher graduated from Tennessee Technological University in 1993 with his chemical engineering degree, he found himself in a tough job market. Many companies weren’t hiring, and those that were, typically looked to hire graduates who had completed a co-op or internship with their company.

For Stonecipher, who had been a nontraditional student spending most of his time outside of class, either at his day job or completing homework, the job market was particularly bleak. However, he was undeterred.

“Tech gave me a larger sense of the world about me, which was the experience and change in perspective I wanted from a university,” he said. “Understanding that engineering is an applied science served me well professionally and Tech did a good of giving me that understanding, which paid off later.”

Over the next three decades, Stonecipher's willingness to embrace new challenges opened opportunities in areas spanning process technology, project management, operations leadership, business strategy and cutting-edge clean technologies.

Fresh out of Tech, Stonecipher landed at Monsanto's nylon business in Pensacola, Florida as a process technology engineer. He quickly took on leadership roles, leading a team to evaluate capacity expansion options before moving into process engineering work. 

“I moved over to acting as the process engineer, designing the expansion and using all the skills I learned at Tech to design and evaluate pump and piping networks, heat exchangers, and control valve sizes,” he said.

His next stop was at Monsanto's Chocolate Bayou plant in Texas, where he gained experience in process scale-up, plant start-ups and overseeing major capital projects.

From there, Stonecipher's career took him to companies like Westlake Chemical, GE Plastics, and Celanese, where he applied his technical knowledge to improve operations, implement better maintenance strategies and enhance profitability. His role at GE marked his transition into formal leadership and business management.

“While at GE, I realized leadership can be learned and developed, but culture is the critical ingredient to that, and that comes from the top,” he said. “I carried the culture I gained at GE through the rest of my career and used it in all of my roles after I left GE to shape the organizations I joined.”

In 2007, Air Liquide recruited Stonecipher to grow its hydrogen and syngas business in the U.S. He went on to start up new facilities, serve as a plant manager and eventually become director of operations, overseeing sites across multiple states and interfacing directly with major customers.

But it was his most recent roles that allowed Stonecipher to combine his decades of operations experience with the emerging cleantech space. First, he joined municipal waste-to-biofuels startup, Fulcrum BioEnergy, initially guiding the engineering and operations for their first-of-its-kind plant, and then moving up to leading technical due diligence discussions with investors such as Blackrock.

"I've been able to use my technical skills, along with the MBA I worked hard to earn in the middle of a very challenging start up, to drive real business outcomes and decisions," said Stonecipher. "Effectively communicating very technical topics to non-technical stakeholders is critical."
Today, as chief operating officer of battery innovator, ADVANO, Stonecipher is building the Operations and Engineering teams for a company pioneering next-generation lithium-ion battery technology. With a career spanning from chemical plants to cutting edge CleanTech, Stonecipher’s career has been an example for upcoming chemical engineers who are looking for a variety of industries and pathways.
"My advice to the young engineers is to step outside of your comfort zone, to try new things and to move around,” Stonecipher said. “Each step I took paved the way for the next, more exciting role, and I have made friends all around the world because of those roles. As new professional opportunities were presented, my wife, Cara, and I kept an open mind. Because of that, we have lived dreams we would never have expected.”

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