One of the most successful businesses based in Jacksonville doesn’t do any business in Jacksonville —or even the U.S.
This is the story of APR Energy.
Its co-founder and Executive Chairman John Campion shared his life's journey at a recent World Affairs Council Jacksonville luncheon.
Campion arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in the early 1980s without a high school degree and with $25 in his pocket.
He began working as a roadie for rock concerts, and in time, he and his partner, Laurence Anderson, turned that experience into a company named Show Power, which supplied electricity for rock shows.
Campion’s work brought him to Jacksonville in 1990, where he powered up a concert at the Gator Bowl.
“I was working for the Rolling Stones, and we had three days off in Jacksonville, Florida,” Campion remembers. “And I said, ‘My God, what a cool place.’ You’ve got the river, you’ve got the Intracoastal, you got the ocean. It’s quiet. It’s not South Florida.”
It was the experience on rock shows that led Campion and Anderson to eventually supply electricity in 25 countries around the world under the name APR Energy, which has been headquartered on Jacksonville’s Northside since 2002.
APR is a leader in what’s called “fast track” electrical generation. They can fly the equivalent of a medium-size electrical power plant anywhere in the world and have it generating electricity in three months. A similar sized plant would conventionally take years to build.
The turbines that APR transports around the world are fired by diesel fuel and natural gas, and they are put together like Legos, Campion explained. A small plant would be like 10 Legos; a larger plant would be like connecting 20 Legos. It’s a skill he learned from quickly building up and tearing down electrical systems for rock shows and transporting the equipment to the next city hundreds or thousands of miles away.
APR does business in some of the toughest spots in the world, including Libya, Yemen, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Haiti. Campion says along with that comes some sticky situations, like people asking for bribes to do business. He has a simple rule: Pay no bribes – because U.S. law forbids it, and also because it never ends.
“You pay one person off, and then you’re paying everyone else off,” he said. “You’re at the port, and the guy’s got his hand out. Well he’s got his hand out, the police’ve got their hand out—everybody’s got their hand out. It’s a slippery slope.”
It was the company’s work in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi was kicked out that almost ruined APR Energy, and it took a $700 million loss in 2014.
But it’s on better financial footing after Campion took the company private early this year, attracting some major private capital investors, including Albright Capital Management LLC, which is run by former Sec. of State Madeline Albright.