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ORNL's Ballard joins PYA, hands-off portfolio to scientist Roberto
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Tom Ballard

OAK RIDGE National Laboratory partnerships director Tom Ballard's duties will be assumed Jan. 1 by ORNL Associate Director James Roberto, Ph.D., as Ballard joins management at healthcare-consulting and accounting firm, Pershing Yoakley & Associates (PYA).

Ballard, who'll soon reach ORNL's age-65 threshold for full retirement, told VNC Sunday that he aims to help PYA develop and serve clients that can benefit from the services of PYA's core business and its affiliates.

James Roberto

MIT-trained Roberto is expert in materials sciences and nanotechnology and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to his ORNL bio. ORNL is managed by the UT-Battelle LLC venture; Ballard and Roberto each report to ORNL Director Thom Mason.

PYA will leverage Ballard's decades-in-development personal and professional network to develop and expand its business across all sectors, with early emphasis on helping current and prospective clients leverage technology transfer, commercialization, startup and investment resources with which he has become increasingly familiar in recent years. Leveraging UT and ORNL ties will be among his emphases, he acknowledged.

He and PYA co-founders Ed Pershing and Doug Yoakley have given some thought to allying with groups with similar entrepreneurial interests, such as Nashville-based Venture INCITE, Ballard said when asked; and, while the matter remains under consideration, PYA has not ruled-out taking equity stakes in some ventures the firm supports.

Ballard made clear that to some extent he sees his move to PYA as extending his long-time efforts to "connect the dots," bringing people and resources together in East Tennessee and more broadly in the state.

Knoxville-based Pershing and Yoakley became part of Ballard's network in 1985, a year after the two accountants started their firm, which is now heavily weighted toward consulting within the healthcare-services sector.

PYA affiliated firms include Bluegill Creative, an interactive marketing agency; PYA Waltman Capital, an advisory firm; Realty Trust Group; and, Research and Planning Consultants, according to PYA's site. The firm now has about 170 employees, said Ballard. It has more than 1,400 clients and additional offices in Atlanta, Austin and Tampa Bay, according to the site.

In a 2010 article published by ORNL, Ballard described his mission as helping "researchers to be more successful through stronger external connections and to help the local and regional communities capitalize, in appropriate ways, on the unprecedented growth of research and development activities at the laboratory."

ORNL's current budget austerity was not the decisive factor in Ballard's decision to retire, he said, although he acknowledged that after having been associated with launching important initiatives amid better times, the ORNL "cutting" that is now underway, plus the opportunity to undertake something new within PYA, made the decision a bit easier. After comparing notes with his wife during a winter vacation earlier this year, the die was cast, he said.

Ballard said he has an unprecedented level of optimism regarding entrepreneurial opportunities for Tennessee businesses, and lauded the efforts of Life Science Tennessee Chairman Joe Cook, Startup Tennessee and Nashville Entrepreneur Center CEO Michael Burch and others to bring new energy and ideas to addressing previously more latent opportunities.

Ballard told VNC he intends to continue service on the boards of directors of Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC), where his term ends in June 2012; and, on the board of Life Science Tennessee (formerly known as the Tennessee Biotechnology Association).

Ballard has thus far in his career worked with five Tennessee governors and ten commissioners of economic and community development, he said. Gov. Bill Haslam's ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty is also chairman of the board of TTDC.

In 2004, Ballard joined ORNL (succeeding Alex Fischer) after retiring with 35 years service from the University of Tennessee, where he ultimately served as vice president for public and governmental relations. Ballard also served as executive director of the Institute for Public Service (IPS) at UT, which he oversaw for two decades.

At the outset of his career, Ballard, a lifelong East Tennessean, was a reporter for the original Knoxville Journal newspaper and the Daily Times in Maryville. He earned his bachelor's in communications at the University of Tennessee in 1967 and joined the UT administration in 1969 as director of alumni programs. VNC

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Tags: accounting, Bill Hagerty, Bluegill Creative, consulting, Doug Yoakley, economic development, Ed Pershing, healthcare, James Roberto, Joe Cook Jr, Life Science Tennessee, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michael Burcham, MIT, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, PYA Waltman Capital, Realty Trust Group, Research & Planning Consultants, Tennessee Biotechnology Association, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, Thom Mason, Thomas B. Ballard, Tom Ballard, TTDC, University of Tennessee, ventures

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