Interview with Kim Thompson – CEO of Kraig Biocraft Laboratories
Q: Mr. Thompson, It is a pleasure meeting you and I want to thank you for this interview. Can you provide a short synopsis of your background and history? We were chatting before going on the record here. I understand you grew up not far from where we are meeting.
A: Yes. I grew up on the south side of Lansing in the Lyons Avenue School district. My parents separated and divorced after I turned two. My father left for California and my little sister and I were raised by my Mother.
Q: Tell me a little about that. What was that like?
A: Well… We grew up in some poverty. So, in some respects it was very hard on my mother. There was often very little or nothing to eat. But it was a loving home, and my mother did everything she could. Looking back, I don’t know how she was able to do it.
We were poor, but there were people that were poorer than us. A good day was when we had canned tuna fish and some macaroni. While my sister and I didn’t always have enough to eat, I think my mother skipped meals so that there would be more for the children.
My little sister was almost killed before she turned one. My first memory is of visiting her in the hospital burn unit. They would not let me in, but I could see her through a big window. I must have been almost three at the time. My mother would pull me in a little wagon, about three miles to the hospital every day and then back again. My sister was in there for several months.
Q: Was your mother working?
A: At that time, we might have been on food stamps and part time jobs. I’m not sure because I was very young. By the time I have a clear memory, my mother was a typist, earning very low wages back in those days.
Q: What was school like? Did you play sports?
A: I played sports in elementary and junior high. I discovered chess when Bobby Fischer won the world’s chess championship and chess mania swept the USA. My fifth-grade teacher taught our class how to play. I was hooked almost immediately. I eventually became the chess champion at my elementary and middle school. I was also on the equations team, something that has now been replaced in schools by the “Math Counts” math competitions.
Q: What about high school, did you play any sports then?
A: Well, I don’t think my mother really encouraged sports. In high school I played competitive chess. My chess partner and friend, Bill Draher was murdered in the school hallway. Another friend and member of the chess club, Kevin Jones, was wounded in the shooting.
My Mother pulled us out of Everett high school and we moved into a small apartment in East Lansing. We really couldn’t afford to live in East Lansing, but my Mother was adamant that we not go back to a school where my friend had been murdered. She also wanted my sister and I to receive a better education.
Q: So, you transferred to another high school after the murder?
A: Yes. I had been active in model UN debate at Everett high school and because of that, I knew most of the debaters at East Lansing. So, when we arrived at the new high school, I already had friends. At East Lansing high school, I was on the debate team, chess team and the model UN debate team.
Q: What did you do after high school?
A: About the time I graduated high school, my mother fell critically ill and was hospitalized. We lost our apartment. Relatives took my sister in, but I was eighteen, so I was on my own.
I took a full-time job at a local restaurant washing dishes and bussing tables. My plans for college were gone. I rented out a small room in someone’s attic for twenty-five dollars a week.
Most of my close friends from the debate societies went off to colleges out of the area, many of them to very prestigious schools; Yale, Brandice, Princeton, Columbia. They were working towards their futures while I was washing dishes for a living. It was several years before I saw the inside of a University.
Q: But you eventually went on to James Madison College within Michigan State University?
A: Eventually. Back then I took a few night classes at the local community college, but that was just part time. My main focus was trying to earn enough money to live on. After working in the restaurant for about a year, I heard about an opportunity to become a professional diver and work for a mining company in Alaska. That sounded amazing compared to busing tables and living in an attic. So, I accepted the job and moved to the Alaskan wilderness.
Q: What was that like?
A: I went from living in an attic to living in a tent and sleeping on permafrost. I had to carry a shotgun to leave camp, even to brush my teeth down by the water. So, it was quite an adventure.
I lived in the woods with a small dredging team, somewhere north of Tok. I spent six hours a day underwater, directing dredging equipment. Even in the summer, when the sun was hot, the water was freezing. Nights were freezing too, because eight inches or so down, the ground was frozen solid.
I enjoyed the work underwater, but the cold was taxing. In the spring and fall, my wet suit would be frosted or even partially frozen when I put it on. Putting on a frozen wet suit in order to work in freezing water is not something I will forget. Some divers in those conditions, would get drunk before their shifts. But I didn’t do that.
Q: You eventually returned to Michigan?
A: Yes. I studied at the community college and eventually transferred into James Madison College at Michigan State University.
Q: What is your degree in?
A: I earned a bachelor’s degree in Applied Economics, which had a strong focus on public policy.
Q: Were you still working while you were in college?
A: Yes. I worked numerous jobs. I had to support myself and pay for my education. I delivered hay to horse stables and sheep farms. I did sales. I traveled to fairs around the state and sold shirts and hats from a booth. I worked phone banks…Anything I could find to earn a living and pay tuition.
I also did janitorial work at Michigan State University, cleaning toilets and dorm rooms in the summer when they had high school students living on campus for sports camps.
Tuition was a lot cheaper back in those days, but it still took me a long time to save up the money for each semester.
During that time, I founded a successful company which specialized in diamonds and precious stones. Later I became the general manager of a national jewelry wholesale Company while still a student.
Q: What did you do after graduation?
A: I accepted a job with California Craftsman where I eventually became a vice president. I eventually left there to join the finance industry. First at Franchise Venture Partners and eventually at Shearson Lehman.
Q: Someone told me that you became a stock broker and somehow tested out of the series seven, FINRA exam, is that right?
A: Yes, but I didn’t test out of anything. I studied hard for the series seven and the sixty-three. I did received the highest series seven score for all Shearson brokers in my class nationwide.
At Shearson, I specialized in equity trading and research of small-cap companies. I eventually identified a local micro-cap company, SPAR, that I believed was greatly undervalued. After trying, unsuccessfully, to convince my firm and clients to take a position in the stock, I invested my own money. I did not have much, but I took everything I had and bought the stock. It went from $3.00 or $3.50 to $27, and I quit my job. With the encouragement of my sister, who later became an attorney herself, and that of an old friend from my collage debate team, I enrolled in law school.
Q: How’d you do on the LSAT? You really don’t have to answer that.
A: Well, I studied very hard on my own and I received a perfect LSAT Score of 48, 170 on the adjusted scale at that time.
Q: And you went to the University of Michigan Law School?
A: Eventually. I didn’t want to waste any time and it was already late fall. So, I needed a law school with a January start class. I tried repeatedly to make an appointment to meet Dean Shields at the University of Michigan Law School, to see if a January start date at the U of M was possible.
I couldn’t get an appointment. But I found out that he was going to be attending a legal conference in Chicago. So, I drove to Chicago and I found him in the lobby of the hotel where the conference was taking place. We talked and he invited me to meet in his office the following week. Dean Shields recommended Jon Marshal law School in Chicago, as a school that had a January start class and an excellent reputation. So, I moved to Chicago. It is a great school and I learned a lot there as a first-year law student.
After my first year, I transferred to the University of Michigan Law School. I had a photograph of the U of M Law Quad on my wall while I was at John Marshal, and I looked at it every morning for inspiration. I needed very high marks to complete the transfer to the U of M, so that was a year of intense study. I loved every minute of it.
Q: You must have been one of the oldest law students?
A: Well, I came to law school after a long business career. I was one of the oldest at John Marshal, but not the oldest. As far as I know I was the oldest in my class at the University of Michigan.
Q: Did coming to the Law school after a business career give you a different perspective?
A: Yes, it sure did.
Q: Do you want to elaborate?
A: Not really. I might just say that at the U of M, abstract legal theory was sometimes disjointed from practical reality. I suspect that is the case with many of the top tier schools. Having come from a business career, the difference between theory and reality was obvious to me. Most of my fellow law students had come directly from undergrad. They had no life experience outside of college.
Many schools are top tier because they are so exclusive. They bring in the brightest minds, and then fill them with mush. I don’t want to be too harsh with the U of M though because I do love the law quad. That’s where I met my wife.
Q: When did you graduate from law school?
A: December, 1994, because of my January start date… If I can interject; Jon Marshal is a great law school. Frankly, I learned more in my first year there than I learned in the subsequent two years at the U of MI feel very, very fortunate to have studied property law with professor Barr and contracts with professor Berendt.
At that time anyway, it was like being in the “Paper Chase”. * The kids in my study groups were fantastic and highly motivated. Not to knock the U of M. That school has its obvious strengths and charms. But Jon Marshal, at least while I was there, took the study of law and legal theory very seriously, and so did the students. At U of M, there was more of an attitude of “we have made it” The faculty treated the students that way as well. At Jon Marshal, there was no philosophy that you had earned respect just by being admitted.
Q: What did you do after you graduated from law school?
A: Just before graduating, I sent out more than a thousand letters to law firms looking for a position as a trial lawyer. In one seminal interview, the interviewer from Sidley Austin told me that he had been a trial lawyer for eight years and had never been in a trial. He explained that it was very common for trial lawyers at the big firms to go many years between trials. I ended my job search that day. I was a high school and college debater. I didn’t want to wait to join a firm so that they could sideline me. I wanted to join the big leagues and become a professional debtor.
Just after that I received an offer with a medium sized firm which was focused on securities law. My background as a stock broker and my work at Franchise Venture Partners made me interesting to them. They wanted me to help them open their new office in West Palm Beach. I turned it down because I knew I would never be the trial lawyer that I wanted to be if I went down that path.
Instead, I founded my own firm. I negotiated a deal with a law firm which allowed me open my own office inside their office. They paid me consulting fees for my work on their cases and I received support and guidance from them on my own cases.
In fact, my first courtroom experience was a case that they gave me because it was believed to be unwinnable. It was a fatal air disaster case against a major insurance company and a high-powered Chicago law firm which specialized in air disasters. There was not a lot of money at stake, but emotions were high and the insurance company was putting up a fight all out of proportion to the dollars at stake. I represented the widow. It was a tragic case.
Q: What was the outcome of that case?
A: I won the case, much to the shock of the opposing law firm.
Q: What else were you doing during this time?
A: Well, I was engaged to my law school sweetheart and we were married in San Francisco, her home town. For our honeymoon, we came back to Michigan and together we conducted a five-count felony trial. I believe that it was a good way to start our marriage. It was a tuff trial and an ordeal. We had to work hard together as a team.
I had already agreed to move to San Francisco when I asked my wife to marry me.
Q: What was next for you?
A: My wife and I founded the law firm of Ching and Thompson in San Francisco.
Q: Was that successful?
A: Yes. It was. We won the largest award of lost profits in the history of California arbitrations during our first year. Our firm specialized in trial work and consulting for small publicly traded companies.
Q: Did you have any noteworthy clients?
A: Well, Honeywell International was a client of our small firm.
Q: What would you say was your firm’s most noteworthy accomplishment?
A: Some notable courtroom and arbitration victories included Grand Technologies v. Turbodyne, Turbogreen v. Grand Tech ($20,000,0000 at stake), Fenham v. Nanotech. There were a lot of cases… And there were a lot of wins in corporate board rooms and in negotiations. While our little firm was based in San Francisco, much of our trial work was in Los Angeles area courts. Eventually we moved to Santa Barbara to be closer.
To go from being a high school and college debater to being a trial lawyer was, to me, like being a high school football player and then joining the NFL. The work was hard and stressful, but I loved almost every minute of it.
Q: You then moved back to Michigan:
A: Yes. In 2000, my wife and I retired and moved back to Michigan. Doing large numbers of trials, back to back, was stressful. Even if, at some level, I enjoyed it. So, I was happy for the break.
Q: And that’s when you began working on Kraig Biocraft Laboratories?
A: During my brief retirement I began studying molecular biology. Just on my own. I’ve always had a keen interest in science and I started with the biology 101 textbook, which took me a long time to get through. Then, I studied genetic engineering. You need to know that many of the tools molecular biologist use today had not even been invented yet. The science was still in its infancy.
Q: And by 2002, you had invented the protein expression platform which became the basis for Kraig Biocraft Laboratories?
A: Yes. During that time, I also invented and designed various mag lev applications in medical technology, as well as organic polymers among others things.
Q: And you had given up the law completely.
A: No. I was too young for retirement. In fact, it was while I was working to develop the protein expression system that my wife and I, along with a good friend from my days at John Marshal, founded the Chicago trial law firm of McJessy, Ching & Thompson. My work at MC&T has focused on constitutional law and civil rights.
Q: Have you had any noteworthy cases?
A: I won the landmark first amendment case of Zitzka v. Vil. of Westmont, which centered on a police department’s effort to punish a citizen and her family for exercising their right to free speech.
Subsequently I learned that the government was collecting massive amounts of personal data on American citizens including email and phone conversations. I was able to learn about this before it became public knowledge and some of it is not yet known to the general public. These programs violate the US constitution, and I became concerned that branches of the government could use the data to blackmail politicians. So, I founded two nonprofits: USA Rights and the Constitutional Rights Organization.
Q: How did that work out?
A: Well, my predictions for the abuse of the spying programs have been borne out. These domestic spying programs are death to a constitutional democracy. It has taken a long time, but people are starting to wake up to the fact that unlimited power is having a corrupting influence on our government and our democracy
Q: It sounds like a very busy time for you.
A: It was and it still is. I founded Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, Inc, 2006. It is a biotechnology firm that has created genetically engineered spider silk for commercial use. We created the first transgenic silkworm producing spider silk in 2010. That work was the subject of a pier reviewed scientific article in the publication of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)That’s something I am very proud of. We did that in cooperation with the University of Notre Dame. I am both the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Q: Kraig Biocraft is now publicly traded?
A: Yes. The Company went public on the OTC in 2008.
Q: I saw from your firm’s profile that you are a member of the Triple Nine Society. I looked it up and it’s a social organization for people with documented genius level IQs. So, I take it that you must have tested above the 99.9th percentile, is that right?
A: I really don’t like these types of societies, because I think the whole idea of IQ is misleading and poorly understood. My own view is that my training in chess and debate helped hone skills in logic. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t really know.
Anyway, I read an article about these societies and decided to take the test. I waited more than ten years after passing the test before joining. I had very mixed feelings about it. Eventually my sister convinced me to join. She is very persistent.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Thompson. It has been a pleasure.
*The “Paper Chase” is a book, movie and television series about law students attending Harvard Law School and struggling to learn and understand the intricacies of the law.