Country of origin: Greece
Year came to U.S.: mid-1940’s
Education: BS, MS, PhD Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Business: Thermo Fisher Scientific (1956)
Headquarters: Waltham, MA
2019 revenue: $25.5 billion
Worldwide employment: 75,000
Ranked 119 in 2020 Fortune 500
Thermo Electron Corporation was started in 1956 with $50,000. It became Thermo Fischer Scientific and had revenues of $20.9 billion in 2017.
The company’s first product, the thermionic energy converter, never made it to market.
George N. Hatsopoulos grew up in Nazi-occupied Greece. He admired Thomas Edison and wanted to emulate him as both an inventor and entrepreneur. As a teenager, he built and sold radios and transmitters, which were outlawed by the Nazis.
After the war, he came to the United States with a scholarship to study mechanical engineering at MIT. In 1956, Hatsopoulos finished his doctoral dissertation about his theoretical invention of an engine that converted heat directly into electricity without any moving parts called the “thermionic energy converter.” That same year, he and his brother John formed the Thermo Electron Corporation to commercialize his invention. They started the company in George’s living room and basement with $50,000 borrowed from a Greek ship owner.
The energy converter never came to fruition but the effort spawned a successful engineering company, which went on to become the largest analytical instrumentation company in the world. The innovative company has been referred to as a “perpetual idea machine.” From the beginning, Hatsopoulos saw the value in turning ideas into products and new businesses. His strategy was to make each promising technology the core of its own new subsidiary to encourage entrepreneurial activity.
Hatsopoulos retired as chairman of Thermo Electron in 2000 and remained an active board member. Thermo Electron Corporation acquired Fisher Scientific in 2006 and became Thermo Fisher Scientific. The company now provides services to pharmaceutical and biotech companies, clinical diagnostic labs, research Institutions, universities, government agencies, hospitals and environmental industries with a mission to “enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.”
Hatsopoulos kept academic ties as well as industrial. He served as a faculty member from 1956 to 1962 and senior lecturer until 1990 at MIT. His community service includes the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Securities and Exchange Commission Advisory Committee on Capital Formation and Regulatory Process, the Advisory Committee of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the boards of many other corporations and institutions. He died on September 20, 2018 at the age of 91.