Richard Schwarz has a knack for “industrial teamwork.” In addition to demonstrating the science skills central to innovation, he excels at weaving together disciplines like manufacturing, marketing, operations, and IP protection. This broad mix has helped him lead chemistry--oriented R&D efforts for more than four decades at Firestone Tire and Rubber, PPG Industries, and several startups; earn more than two dozen patents; and bring many successful products to market.
After earning his MIT degree in chemistry, Schwarz completed a master’s and doctorate from Duke University. His first job after finishing his education was at Firestone’s Central Research Lab in Akron, Ohio. “I was experienced in anionic synthesis, which was a focus at Firestone, but I didn’t do any for five years after I arrived,” he recalls. “It turned out my training in that niche wasn’t as applicable as being able to think critically about projects as a whole.”
Schwarz later held senior research posts at PPG, spending 20 years participating in projects like commercialization of resins for lens making and the development of Teslin, the first synthetic paper that could run through color laser printers and copiers.
“A customer brought us the idea, and I was the first full-time technical person assigned to it,” recalls Schwarz. “We spent six months meeting customers to define the business opportunity and then built a pilot plant. At one point Teslin accounted for 10 percent of our unit’s sales and a quarter of the profits; it’s still a solid business. The ability to put patents around it is something I’m proud of.”
Schwarz opened a consulting practice in 2002: he’s done extensive work in Ohio’s public-private industrial development partnerships and several educational programs, while also providing technical analysis for investors. One of his early clients, RES Polyflow, which has developed a plastics-to-fuel recycling process, is now poised to begin work on its first plants. “We could be a 15-year overnight success,” he quips.
One MIT experience still stands out as useful to his career: two years rowing and two years managing for MIT Crew. “We had everyone from rank amateurs like me to people who had rowed for years at prep schools, trying to work together in an eight-oar shell,” notes Schwarz. “I’ve really valued what it taught me about team building and getting out of a ‘silo’ approach to projects.”
Schwarz and his wife of 45 years, Lee, have four children and nine grandchildren. He is an administrator and teacher at Lakemore United Methodist Church in Ohio, has shown coonhounds, and enjoys weekend “reading binges.”