November 2012 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Michael Smyers: Molecular Logistics

Tags: Education & Careers

Michael Smyers

Michael Smyers is associate director, logistics, at Amyris, a manufacturer of chemical products and transportation fuels made from renewable resources, based on an industrial synthetic biology platform. Smyers has worked at Amyris, in Emeryville, Calif., since 2010.

Responsibilities: Global logistics, trade compliance, and sourcing.

Experience: Internship, TranzAct Technologies; several operational and managerial positions culminating in vice president, Allyn International Services.

Education: Penn State University, B.S., business logistics. Certifications: Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Supply Chain Management and Lean Six Sigma; Georgia Tech, Logistics Professional Series; GE, Supplier Six Sigma; Institute for Supply Management, Certified Professional in Supply Management; Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, SCPro.


When I joined Amyris in 2010, the company had just completed an initial public offering and was working toward commercializing its products. The logistics infrastructure needed to be built out, and my initial role was to develop and deploy a scalable solution.

Today, an ongoing challenge is striking the right balance between cost, speed, and flexibility as we bring new chemical and transportation fuel products to market.

We work with many contract manufacturers, and we're commissioning our own plant in Brazil. As new production sites come online and we enter new markets, it's critical that our logistics capabilities enable us to execute the supply chain strategy.

Many of our products are brand new molecules, so determining Customs classifications and identifying requirements for importing the product into other countries are two major challenges. For example, we might need a Certificate of Free Sale and Good Manufacturing Practice to sell cosmetics into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries. Complying with complex and changing requirements is one of my key responsibilities.

In 2013, we plan to search for a transportation management system (TMS). We need to consider many issues: Should we host internally, or opt for a cloud-based service? Do we pursue a best-of-breed model, or use the TMS that comes with our enterprise resource planning system? What software best integrates our suppliers, logistics service providers, and carriers?

One of the scariest career decisions I've made was when I graduated from Penn State's logistics program and accepted a position with Allyn International, a boutique professional services firm based in Fort Myers, Fla. When I joined the company, it employed fewer than 15 people. I didn't know what opportunities I would find beyond the initial position, unless I made them for myself.

To help the company succeed, I put a lot of effort into continuing education, and upgraded my skills in areas that would have the biggest impact for our customers. As the company grew and prospered, several opportunities arose. Among them was the chance to develop some novel logistics solutions for the wind energy industry.

Using Design For Six Sigma principles, my team worked with a customer to develop a reusable fixture for shipping turbine blades and tower sections from overseas suppliers. The fixture reduced logistics unit costs by stacking cargo on the vessels we chartered.

The design also enabled us to efficiently transfer the cargo from a vessel to a truck or railcar, minimizing handling. To reduce reverse logistics costs, the fixtures were made to be easily disassembled at wind farm sites, then loaded into standard 40-foot containers for shipment back to the overseas blade and tower factories.

After working for 15 years as a logistics practitioner, I still get excited about my job. I'm looking forward to tackling new challenges at Amyris as we continue to innovate and provide renewable alternatives to petroleum-sourced transport fuels and chemicals.

The Big Questions

How do you recharge your batteries?

On weekends, I like to go hiking in some of northern California's wonderful national, state, and regional parks. I also enjoy listening to jazz.

Alter-ego dream job?

Professional baseball player. If we're talking about something I could actually earn a living at, I'd go into science or teaching.

Do you have a hidden talent?

Cooking. I picked up a few recipes and techniques when I was working in France. Good food and fresh ingredients are readily available in the Bay Area, so it's easy to try new recipes.

What's on your Bucket List?

Adding to the list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's World Heritage sites I've visited.