John Nicols

President and CEO of Codexis

John Nicols

John Nicols, born on Long Island into a large and hardworking Catholic family, earned his bachelor’s degree from what was then commonly known as Poly in chemical engineering — a course of study he likens to “boot camp for the brain.” “Once you earn a degree in the field, it will serve you well throughout your lives and careers, no matter what path you pursue,” he has advised current students. “For one thing, you’re proving that you’re good at solving problems and capable of scientific rigor.” That rigor, he quips, can help you understand how almost everything in the world works, with the possible exception of your spouse. “Chemicals are not hard to understand,” he said, “but people can be.”

Nicols is now the president and CEO of Codexis, a protein-engineering company that develops biocatalysts used in the commercial manufacture of pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals, and he tells aspiring young engineers that any of them can be capable of leading a research and development team. “Just identify your experience gaps and go out and fill them,” he encourages. “Look to your mentors and model yourselves on them. You might already know your dream job and ultimate goal, so set achievable interim goals and you’ll get there!”