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February 19, 2018 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: John Hopkins is the model for a utility infielder

iacmi_LOGO_2017_blue(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series that is the result of a recent interview with John Hopkins, a long-time University of Tennessee employee and currently the Chief Executive Officer of IACMI.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

We’ve known John Hopkins for well over two decades, maybe longer.

The first interaction that we recall with the long-time University of Tennessee (UT) staff member occurred when he was a key lieutenant at the UT Space Institute (UTSI) in Tullahoma. Hopkins’ official title was Research Associate Professor, but it was clear that he was the “go to” special projects person on whom then UTSI Vice President Dwayne McCay most relied.

When the latter moved to Knoxville in 2000 to become UT’s Vice President for Research, McCay soon brought Hopkins with him to continue as his trusted lieutenant. Over the years, even as changes occurred in the UT system administration, Hopkins fine-tuned his credentials that are best characterized by a well-used baseball title – utility infielder. He was very willing and, more important, very able to play whatever position was needed at the time.

Last September, Hopkins stepped into possibly his most challenging role yet as Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, better known as IACMI (click here for that announcement). One of the national manufacturing hubs, IACMI is operated by Collaborative Composite Solutions Corporation, a subsidiary of the UT Research Foundation (UTRF).

And, just a few weeks ago, the interim word was removed from Hopkins’ title.

“For almost 20 years, Dr. Hopkins and I have had the opportunity to work together on multiple University of Tennessee initiatives ranging from small business projects to multi-year, multi-million dollar national research initiatives such as IACMI-The Composites Institute,” Stacey Patterson, UT Vice President for Research, Outreach and Economic Development, said. “He has earned a reputation as an insightful and trusted partner with an inclusive, strategic leadership style that inspires his team and maximizes the impact of all he does.”

During his UT tenure, the soft-spoken Hopkins served as UTRF Vice President and later as Director of Strategic Operations for the late David Millhorn and his team in the Office of the Executive Vice President. During that period, the state pursued and UT ultimately was responsible for managing something called EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research).

The initiative was focused solely on helping Tennessee be more competitive for federal research dollars, particularly in energy, and the state soon successfully secured a five-year, $20 million award from the National Science Foundation. Named TN-SCORE (Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage using Outreach, Research and Education), it was one of the largest grants the federal agency had ever made to Tennessee.

Millhorn was Principal Investigator, while Hopkins oversaw TN-SCORE’s day-to-day operations. The latter described the program to us in greater detail in this mid-2012 article from

Was the program successful? Ironically, Hopkins notes that two teams participating in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) inaugural “Innovation Crossroads” initiative connect directly back to TN-SCORE research at UT and Vanderbilt University.

Now, as IACMI’s permanent CEO, he has embraced his latest challenge as he has all of those that came earlier. He brings his soft-spoken, methodical and analytical approach to the position.

“It started years ago,” Hopkins says of the foundation for IACMI. He recalls a new strategic vision for UTRF that three former SAIC executives (Larry Peck, Mike Cuddy, and Mike Arms) helped develop for McCay in the early 2000s.

“You also needed a structural and organizational framework to make it happen,” he says, crediting Millhorn for championing UTRF’s expanded role that resulted in subsidiaries like Genera Energy, TENNERA, West Tennessee Solar Farm, and Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus. “Stacey Patterson led and is currently leading many of these programs that leverage UTRF and UT assets.”

Hopkins also calls out Craig Blue, the long-time research leader at ORNL who, among other initiatives, had the vision for the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility that was a key component in securing the partners that helped win the IACMI grant.

“It took him (Blue) years to put it together,” Hopkins says. “Some of the things we are now doing with IACMI have the same long timeframe.”

NEXT: How Hopkins sees IACMI’s positioning for the future?

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