My first day: Resynergi CFO

The recycling startup’s CFO, Jens Umehag, wants to keep more types of plastic out of landfills.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

This is part of our occasional series on CFOs’ first day on their current job.

Ever feel like you’re failing at recycling? Do you ever put types that don’t go together in the same bin? Fail to check whether those types are, you know, actually recyclable in your area? Try to recycle something that’s not the cleanest? (Um, not that we would ever do such a thing.)

Point is, recycling plastic is complicated. That’s one reason why so little of it actually gets a second life. Only 4.7% of household plastic waste is recycled in the US, according to Greenpeace.

Resynergi, a California-based startup, is trying to change all that. It’s constructing modules that use microwaves to break down plastics into pyrolysis oil—a substance that can be used as fuel or be converted into other plastic products. The reactors in its modules can handle even plastics that aren’t recycled that readily, such as #4 and #5 plastics, as well as dirty plastics.

What’s more, the modules are portable. Most other existing pyrolysis facilities are built on-site and plastic waste must be shipped to them, which is both difficult and expensive, said Jens Umehag, Resynergi’s CFO and COO. Resynergi’s modules “fit on the back of a truck. They’re like a container: very modular, flexible, and quick to scale,” Umehag said. In the future, the company plans to sell them to municipal recycling facilities.

Resynergi’s main goal is to “make a dent in the plastic waste that’s all around us,” said Umehag, who came on board in January 2024. He spoke with CFO Brew about why he took the role, what his early days were like, and what advice he’d give fellow CFOs for raising capital.

Seeking purpose: Umehag came to Resynergi from Halma, a large British technology conglomerate, where he was CFO for innovation and digital. He also brought oil and gas and venture capital experience from his tenure with BP, where he was CFO and head of finance group technology for BP Ventures. The much smaller Resynergi appealed to him, he said, because he wanted to work for “a purpose-driven company,” he said, calling it “something I can be proud of with my kids to talk about, and it’s very tangible for them as well.”

Before joining, Umehag read up on the market and industry, and spoke with insiders to see whether Resynergi’s technology seemed feasible. “Everywhere I looked, it was nothing but exciting stuff,” he said. As part of the interview process, he visited the company’s fabrication units. He wanted to “go and feel and see the steel from early on,” he said.

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His first day: On his first day at Resynergi, Umehag did the same thing he did on his first day in every new role: Listen, learn what’s working well and what isn’t, and “ask a lot of questions.” “It’s all about listening, to me, in the beginning,” he said, because staff members “have been around this industry and technology for a lot longer than I have.”

Working for a small startup is a challenge, but one he welcomes. “You have to be very…hands-on, but I was looking deliberately for something more operational, more hands-on, where I can help scale,” he said. Resynergi plans on having ts first module up and running near its headquarters, he said. It’s soon going to start constructing its second one, aiming to have it ready by the first quarter of next year.

He’ll also be focused on raising capital. “Setting ourselves up for a successful next round is critical,” he said. And he’s also setting “the foundation for the next stage of growth” which entails everything from improving operations, finance, and HR to growing headcount. “I will certainly learn a lot…on how the whole company value chain works, from chemical companies to converters to recycling needs,” he said.

Small companies can be learning incubators: Umehag advises CFOs interested in raising capital to “tell your story in the most powerful way possible.” Build on the momentum you have created, he said, and be “very explicit with the milestones you’re meeting.”

Working for a small company, he suggests, is a good way for aspiring CFOs to build experience. In large companies “you learn a lot, but become very siloed.” In a smaller company “you’re involved even more with things,” he said. “You can have a bigger impact.”

Combining the CFO and COO roles, Umehag said, gives him a broad perspective. “For me, nothing beats having the end-to-end view of the whole business, so getting different experiences from the customer side to the manufacturing to the supply chain and strategy roles,” he observed.

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.