George and John Hatsopoulos and Arvin Smith

George and John Hatsopoulos

George and John Hatsopoulos

George Hatsopoulos, John Hatsopoulos, and Arvin Smith together built one of the world’s leading producers of analytical instruments: Thermo Electron.


Arvin Smith.

The company was the brainchild of George Hatsopoulos, who as a boy dreamed of following in the footsteps of Thomas Edison, both as an inventor and entrepreneur. In the post-war period Hatsopoulos came to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he obtained a Ph.D. in 1956. In that same year he launched Thermo Electron.

Initially Hatsopoulos based the company on thermionic-converter technology that he had invented. In the 1970s Thermo moved into the field of instrumentation by manufacturing a chemiluminesce instrument for the auto industry. Heading this effort was Arvin Smith, who had shortly before come to Thermo from NASA.

In the mid 1980s Thermo’s instrument business really began to expand. The key to this expansion was George Hatsopoulos’s “spinout” strategy, by which Thermo created public-subsidiary companies out of its businesses while retaining a controlling stake in all of them. John Hatsopoulos, George’s younger brother and Thermo’s CFO, proved a master in selling this strategy to Wall Street.

In 1986 Smith became CEO of a Thermo spinout named Thermo Instrument Systems (THI). Over the next decade, THI acquired, developed, and spun out some of the most storied franchises in instrumentation. Smith demonstrated an incredible ability to transform troubled businesses into profitable ones, and soon THI became the largest analytical instrumentation company in the world.

By 2000, George and John Hatsopoulos had retired from their leadership of Thermo Electron, as had Smith from THI. Today the Hatsopouloses and Smith are involved in a number of ventures, including GlenRose Instruments, a venture they have launched together.

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