Business professional fuels Osprey Racing

A UNF student from the Osprey Racing team shows a spectator some of the finer points of the team's race car.

 

If you ask him, John Campion will readily admit that he has a car problem.

 

It’s not an issue of a flat tire or a busted taillight. It’s a more all-consuming complication. Campion speaks in liters and valves and mph, a language of speed that he became fluent in during a lifetime collecting a jaw-dropping fleet of luxury vehicles.

 

Speed is also the driving force behind his thriving company, Jacksonville-based APR Energy, for which he cofounded with President Laurence Anderson and serves as CEO. Building power plants in resource-lacking locales on the tightest of deadlines means that time is always of the essence for his employees.

 

He’s now sharing his love for the faster things in life with the University of North Florida’s Osprey Racing team in their bid to achieve pole position in the annual Society of Automotive Engineers student racing competition.

 

Campion’s APR Energy has stepped up as the lead business sponsor for the Osprey Racing team, pledging financial and logistical support to the UNF students as they work to build and race a top-tier automobile for competition. The SAE’s annual race takes place every May in Brooklyn, Mich., and includes approximately 120 national and international universities, many of which have decades of experience in the competition. The next car created by the UNF Osprey Student Race team will be UNF’s fourth. A patch of rough luck and a broken wing caused the most recent Osprey Racing group to come in 81st out of the 125 teams that competed in 2014.

 

Osprey Racing Vice President Ju-John Huo said the team designed an entirely new car for that race, and they might have pushed it to the breaking point too early. Osprey Racing plans to learn from these mistakes and build on the vehicle’s framework to engineer a race car capable of a stronger finish. Campion said APR Energy is there to help provide the students with the financial backing and experience to do just that.

 

“We’re looking for progress, not perfection,” Campion said. “These students have shown determination, and they all work hard. They just need the right capital structure to get the ball rolling. We’re providing them with that planning assistance and allowing them to look forward over the next few years and figure out where they plan to take it.”

 

Campion met the students at the annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, a charitable event that acts as something of a beauty pageant for Porsches, Bugattis and Ferraris at which Campion and his fleet of luxury automobiles have become fixtures. During this year’s festivities in March, Campion encountered a new addition to the automotive celebration — a display table manned by UNF students advertising the Osprey Racing team. He said it took him all of five minutes to decide that he would put forth the money to help take the UNF team to the next level.

 

“It’s students. It’s engines. It’s racing. It’s good stuff,” Campion said. “I grew up in Ireland of modest means and always liked cars. So when I came to America and made a few dollars, I bought a few cars. I was on board with them because of that. It’s also a good tie-in with UNF, a school where we’ve established a really good relationship.”

 

APR Energy employs at least 14 UNF alumni at its Jacksonville office, comprising nearly 10 percent of its full-time staff. Their jobs run the gamut from the business side of the operation to engineering field work in different countries where APR has business interests, such as Myanmar, Angola, Uruguay, Argentina, Libya and Indonesia. Many UNF students have interned at the company and parlayed their temporary positions into full-time posts, which Campion credits to UNF’s institutional focus on hands-on learning and strong business and engineering programs.

 

“They’re very prepared when they come to us,” he said. “When they’re here as interns, they learn about our business and the operations. By the time the internship ends, we have someone who’s ready to contribute as an employee.”

 

That’s why further strengthening the already-deep ties between APR Energy and UNF by sponsoring Osprey Racing seemed like a no-brainer to him. However, by the time Campion and his employees started working with the students for the 2014 SAE competition, they were already most of the way through the build process. The upcoming race season is when Osprey Racing will receive the full benefits of the partnership, he said. APR engineers will assist the students with their car build and the APR business team will help the squad draft a marketing plan and organize fundraising activities. Campion made clear that APR’s involvement isn’t to provide funds so the students can print T-shirts or slap logos on the side of the race car — it’s a more holistic partnership in which APR’s talented staff will show the Osprey Racing team how to take a project from the concept stages to execution.

 

“We’re in it for the long haul with them,” Campion said. “We’ll show them every step of the process so that in later years, when team members graduate and move on, they’ll be able to keep moving forward.”

 

The Osprey Racing team has already taken great strides forward since first entering the SAE student competition five years ago. Former student Justin Tussey started the team five years ago so UNF engineering students had a competitive outlet for their skills. The race was started in 1979 by the Society of Automotive Engineers to challenge student engineers to design, build and drive a race car that could withstand technical inspection, racing and a 13-mile endurance run.

 

Faculty adviser John Nuszkowski, a UNF assistant professor of mechanical engineering, began supervising the team three years ago and has witnessed steady progress from the students involved. He credited the race with giving students from across campus the opportunity to unite beneath the common banner of healthy competition and to display their skills. Engineering students handle the bulk of the manufacturing work. Marketing students spearhead fundraising initiatives and secure sponsors and advertisers. Even art students have joined the team to make sure the Osprey Racing vehicle looks good when it swoops down the track.

 

“It’s a great, interdisciplinary project that involves a variety of students who might not ever have a class together,” Nuszkowski said. “There is no replacement for real-world experience, and Osprey Racing is open to everyone and gives them all the experience they can handle.”

 

Huo, the team vice president, likened Osprey Racing to starting a business. The team environment of the project requires communication, leadership and collaboration — all critical workplace skills necessary for any business that hopes to succeed. And that’s where having the backing of a company such as APR Energy will be vital to the team’s progression.

 

“They’re all car enthusiasts, so they’re really happy to help,” Huo said. “They’ve done everything. They’ve given us suggestions, reviews and appraisals, and this year they’ll be giving us design support. It’s great to work with them because they’re just as passionate about it as we are.”

 

That passion is a defining characteristic of Campion and the entire APR Energy team. It’s helped propel the company to more than $495 million in capital growth and a massive run on hiring in the past 10 years. During that journey upward, Campion said he’s never lost sight of the core mission of the business — they’re there to turn the lights on for millions of people in emerging markets. Many of those markets are tough to work in, thanks to a scarcity of resources or a dearth of trained workers. But that’s precisely why APR has thrived — they come in with all the parts, people and plans to build a power plant in the shortest timeline possible.

 

That sense of urgency is the main characteristic Campion hopes to impart to UNF students through his sponsorship of the Osprey Racing team. He’s learned through his business dealings that speed is important, but having the right plan in place before accelerating is the driving force behind a successful operation.

 

 “We do very difficult things in short periods of time,” he said. “That ties in with Osprey Racing. They’re trying to build a racecar in a matter of months, a process that normally takes much longer than that. But I’ve never been much for people telling me what I can and can’t do. We can build a power plant fast and do it well. They must do the same with a racecar. And we’re happy to help them do it.”