Salters’ Stories: Stephen Potter

Stephen Potter received a Salters’ Fellowship in 1975 and went on to lead a successful career in the chemical industry. Hear Stephen’s story and learn about his journey all over the world as an inventor, creator of businesses, CTO, and dealer in intellectual property and patents.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Lincoln and began my education at the local grammar school, which had a boarding house, before heading to the University of Sheffield in 1967 to study Chemistry. After finishing my PhD in ‘Synthesis properties & conformation of M,N, Paracylophones’ I saw an advert for a Harkness fellowship, applied and won! This took me to Yale in 1973, where I was looking at the Mechanism of Chemical reactions with Jerry Berson.

After time, though, I found I really grew at Yale in comparison to the very serious student I was in Sheffield. I was able to travel around America as part of my studies for 3 months, became a freshman councillor and came to really enjoy my time there.


How did you get involved with The Salters’?

Well, as my studies at Yale were coming to an end, R&D in ICI was looking at American students to join their work and approached me to see if I would like to enter the industry.  At the time I was obsessed with being an academic so I declined, but then was challenged with the task of….what next?

This is when I came across the Salters’ Institute, and although I can’t fully remember how I applied I definitely remember coming for an interview in Salters’ Hall in 1975! Luckily I won and began to continue my ability to research, joining Alan Battersby’s team (who was also a Harkness fellow) at the University of Cambridge. Here I looked at trying to synthesise artificial enzymes based on macrocyclic soaps. I have a lot to thank Salters’ for, especially because here was where I met my wife Kerstin.


Where did life take you after your Salters’ fellowship at Cambridge?

I finished my fellowship in 1977 and again was left thinking ‘what next?’. Interestingly enough, ICI re-approached me and I decided to take a chance with them beginning my career in industry. With them I ran the pilot plant to produce the first materials for toxicology testing, before becoming the Product Manager for Titanium Metal.

Antony Wedgewood (the Director at the time) began asking for these plants to be shut down which caused me to begin working with Rolls Royce and the military to negotiate the closing down of ICI’s titanium plant and transfer of the technology to Deeside Titanium, with highly profitable results. In 1982, Kerstins’ father (creator of the Tetra Brik for Ruben Rausing) approached us with an opportunity to buy 40% of a company in Switzerland which produced metallised textiles, so I finished my work with ICI and founded Devex SA in the attic of a farmhouse for the next 5 years.

After this I worked in Germany as Director at Teroson Europe Technical Centre with WR Grace and Henkel, and then Chief Technician Officer & Head of Business with CU Chemie Uetikon AG. One particular role I remember is 1995 for Rexem Beauty was designing a casing for a new generation of beauty products which was very interesting. Moving on from this, I spent a lot of my career working in patenting and advising business development.

Currently I’m with Iprova advising and helping to look after Business Development with major companies with large turnovers, with the help of its novel AI/ML/NLP software. I spending most of my time in between Sweden and Dubai where mine and Kerstin start-up, Visual Metaphors at Work, is based.


If you could give some advice to your younger self what would it be?

To continue with a disinterested search for truth and beauty and always learn, always be open to things and always give it a go! Chemists can truly do anything!