Executive Team

James E. Levine Chief Executive Officer

James E. Levine

Mr. James E. Levine joined Sapphire Energy in 2014 as Chief Executive Officer, bringing to the company a wealth of proven business experience in the industrial biotechnology industry. At Sapphire Energy, Mr. Levine is leading the ongoing efforts to transform the significant technical progress the company has achieved since its inception into a global business, through independent efforts and through partnerships.

Previously, Mr. Levine served as President, CEO and as a board member at Verenium Corporation, a NASDAQ-listed industrial biotechnology company based in San Diego. He joined Verenium in April 2009 as CFO. At Verenium, Mr. Levine initiated and managed many critical partner relationships, including BP, DuPont, DSM, Bunge, Cargill, Novus International, Colgate-Palmolive and Tate & Lyle, among others. This diverse suite of partners enabled Verenium to apply its core enzymes technology to large, global markets including biofuels and animal nutrition, and achieve a clear path to sustained profitability. Prior to Verenium, Mr. Levine was a Managing Director in the investment banking department of Goldman Sachs & Co. in both New York and London, where he focused on serving clients in the global energy and biotechnology industries, and his long term clients included major oil companies and both US and international oil refining companies. Mr. Levine received an M.B.A. degree with a concentration in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in Economics from Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

Thomas 'Tom' Willardson Chief Financial Officer

Thomas 'Tom' Willardson

 Thomas 'Tom' Willardson joined Sapphire Energy as Chief Financial Officer in 2013, bringing more than 30 years of experience in leading financial initiatives for public and privately held companies. Most recently, Mr. Willardson served as CFO at Aurora Algae, Inc., a producer of high-performance, premium algae-based products for the pharmaceutical, nutrition, aquaculture, and fuels markets. Previously, he was CFO at Energy Recovery, Inc., a global leader in the design and development of energy recovery devices for desalination and other industrial processes, where he led the company's successful IPO initiative. At Cost Plus, Inc., the specialty retail store chain, he served as executive vice president and CFO, overseeing all companywide financial initiatives, including a significant restructuring of the company's bank credit lines. As CFO at Visual Sciences, formerly WebSideStory, a software company that pioneered what is today SaaS and the Cloud, he helped lead the company through an aggressive growth period of more than 40% annually and oversaw its subsequent IPO. As CFO at Archimedes Technology Group, a privately funded nuclear waste remediation technology company, he led a successful series D funding round and helped design an ESCO-similar plan to share in cost savings created by the company's own technology.

Mr. Willardson also previously held senior finance executive roles with Leap Wireless International, Bechtel Corporation, The Fremont Group, and Fluor Daniel. He holds a B.S. in Finance from Brigham Young University and an MBA from the University of Southern California.


Jim Astwood Senior Vice President of Product Management

Jim Astwood

Dr. Jim Astwood joined Sapphire Energy in 2015 as senior vice president of product development. Dr. Astwood brings more than 20 years of research and development leadership, most recently with Aurora Algae where his work focused on the commercialization of valuable technologies from algae, and fostered partnerships with prominent companies in the health and nutraceutical industries. Prior to Aurora Algae, Dr. Astwood served as vice president of scientific and government affairs at Martek Biosciences (now DSM Nutrition). He was vice president of global nutrition and regulatory affairs at ConAgra foods, and began his career with the Monsanto Company, where he founded the Biotechnology Product Safety Center and led the safety assessment process for first generation agricultural biotech products. He has served in numerous industry leadership roles, including Trustee at the International Life Sciences Institute, Executive Committee member of the International Food Information Council and board member of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA.

Dr. Astwood holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Food Science and a BSc (Hon) in Genetics from the University of Manitoba, Canada

Jim Butler Vice President of Legal Affairs and Intellectual Property

Jim Butler

Jim joined Sapphire as Senior Director of Intellectual Property in February of 2009. In late 2011, Jim was named Vice President of Legal Affairs and Intellectual property.Jim joined Sapphire from Amylin Pharmaceuticals where he was Sr. Director for Patents. Jim started his legal career in private practice at Senniger, Powers, Leavitt and Roedel in St. Louis, MO where he provided intellectual property services to a variety of clients including Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and academic institutions. In addition to his work at Amylin, Jim has held a variety of positions in industry including at the Torrey Mesa Research Institute (Syngenta) and Diversa, Corp (now Verenium). Jim also served as a judicial clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the Idaho Supreme Court. Prior to his legal career, Jim was a tenured faculty member at the University of Idaho where he conducted research and taught classes in physiology and development biology. He is an author on numerous scientific papers and book chapters. Jim received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis and his J.D. from the University of Idaho. Jim also completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Harvard Medical School.

Yan Poon Vice President of Research and Development

Yan Poon

Yan is one of the scientific co-founders of Sapphire Energy. His background includes platform molecular biology tool development, structural biology, protein and metabolic engineering. Prior to Sapphire Energy, he was a consulting scientist at Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, a startup company developing novel prescription products for the aesthetic market. At Sapphire, Yan has focused on strain transformation, strain improvement, bioflocculation, and trait gene discovery. In August 2014, Yan was named Vice President of Research and Development. Yan received a B.S. in Chemistry and a A.B. In Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology where he studied the structure and function of prokaryotic mechanosensitive channels.

Sally Taggart Vice President

Sally Taggart

Sally joined Sapphire in May of 2011 as part of the Operations team where she was responsible for the on time and on-budget start-up of our Columbus, NM facility. Since December 2012, she has led Sapphire’s Human Resources, Information Technology, and Procurement Functions as well as operations of our San Diego Headquarters. In August 2014, she was named a Vice President of Sapphire. Sally has a broad background with energy companies serving in positions at BP and Chevron. She started her career as a reservoir engineer in Midland Texas and had roles in field operations, technical engineering, business planning, and information technology, as well as public, government, and regulatory affairs. She has worked in a number of locations throughout the United States and abroad including a role in Angola, Africa. Previously Sally was the Chief of Staff to the Head of BP America. In addition to her experience in energy companies, she has worked in information technology start-ups.

Sally has a petroleum engineering degree from the University of Texas.

Dean Venardos Vice President of Operations

Dean Venardos

Dean comes to Sapphire Energy from Western Refining, where he served as the operations director for a 70,000-barrels-per-day refinery on the East Coast. Dean has more than 30 years' experience with Amoco and BP, and held several roles at BP's largest refinery including division manager, technical management, strategic business planning, as well as commercial interface between plant, supply, and trading departments. Dean spent the first half of his career at the Amoco Research and Development center developing and applying new technology in the areas of synthetic fuels, petroleum processing, and environmental controls.

A respected industry executive, he holds five processing patents and has published in numerous journals. Venardos earned his B.S. in chemical engineering from Northwestern University and M.S.ChE from the University of Connecticut.

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