Even though David Schurer jokes that he “would watch TV and eat ice cream” all day if he could, he was working hard on the Expo floor at the ACS national meeting last month. And he was loving it. As vice president and co-owner of Sorbent Technologies, an Atlanta-based chromatography materials and supply company, Schurer was working the crowd to drum up new business for his small company. Working the crowd at the Expo means luring them your way, and to do that, Schurer would often sling his Mini Martin guitar around his shoulder and do what he loves to do most.
“I always do Louis Armstrong tunes, like 'Ain’t Misbehaving,' ” Schurer told me recently. "I usually play a Beatles tune, 'Blackbird.' And 'Foxy Lady,' ” usually at selective moments when the context matches the song. Says Schurer, “the ladies always like a little Hendrix.” Also in the mix are improvisations that conjure Hank Williams and Dave Matthews and music and lyrics that he makes up on the spot. “In D.C., I was just burning it and pretty much did what I had to do,” Schurer said.
I had a brief conversation with him at the Expo and took a picture of him, but it took me a while to get back to him to find out if his musical approach to marketing and his leading role in chromatography had anything to do with one another.
Schurer didn’t expect to be the bard of the Expo, but there have been signs that he could be for a long time. Let’s just say that music is in this guy enough that he dropped out of Emory University in the mid-1970s to give music a go. He played in bands and did solo gigs, but it wasn’t looking promising. Besides, he recalled, “I was getting parental pressure up the wazoo” to go back to school. Which he did, earning a business degree at Emory.
But the musical life kept beckoning. “I hit the road after graduation,” he said, playing everything from “rock to pop,” solo or in bands, wherever and whenever he could. “I backed an Elvis impersonator,” he recalled, adding that sometimes things got a bit hairy. “I played in a bar where a girl got shot. It was kind of weird.”
It was between the music gigs where Schurer got his feet into the laboratory supplies industry. His dad owed the Linden, N.J.-based Ace Scientific Supply Company, and he asked David to spend some time in Puerto Rico on a project that was leading edge at the time—developing interfaces between microcomputers and laboratory instruments. That turned into a five-year stint in Puerto Rico during which Schurer split his time between the company and playing music all over the island. It was also a time when he was making industry connections that continue to prove valuable. “I was working with every major pharmaceutical company in Puerto Rico,” he says.
The pull of music, and a longing for home, proved strong, however. In the late 1980s, he returned to Atlanta and became both a musician and an advocate for musicians by starting up the Atlanta Musical Arts Collective (AMAC). All of which was a terrific way to not make money, he pointed out.
It was one of those pharma connections from Puerto Rico that sent Schurer in a direction that would ultimately make him a regular at ACS expos and put at least a few bucks in his pocket. The reconnection began with Schurer working a booth for a pharmacy company at a Pittcon meeting in Atlanta. In the end, the two started up Sorbent Technologies in 1999 and have been at it ever since.
“What I really liked about this industry is that the guys doing organic synthetic chemistry are like the next Ray Bradbury,” he says, referring to the legendary science fiction writer and futurist. “They are creating the next whatever. More than anybody, the organic chemists are creating the future.”
So now he can talk and sing about chromatography—silica sorbents, activated alumina, polymeric resin, columns, flash cartridges, you name it—with his industry, government, and academic clients. “If you call me with a chromatography problem, I will get an answer,” he says, noting that his customer base centers on pharma and contract manufacturers affiliated with pharma.
At the ACS Expo he talked up his company all day with the goal of securing more customers. And now and again, he would pick up his Mini Martin, three-quarters the size of a regular guitar, and let it rip. “It breaks the ice,” he says. It really does. Oh yeah.