Vincent L. Gregory, Jr.

Born: June 10, 1923 | Oil City, PA, US
Photograph of Vincent L. Gregory Jr.

Detail of Image, CHF Collections

After the war, Gregory simultaneously gained both a Bachelor's degree at Princeton University and a Master's degree at Harvard University. Then in 1949, he began his career at the Rohm and Haas Company by conducting internal auditing in three plants. He then ran Rohm and Haas' agricultural-chemical operations in England before becoming Director of European Operations.

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0133
No. of pages: 54
Minutes: 70

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
14 February 1995
Rohm and Haas Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Vincent L. Gregory begins this interview with a description of growing up in a family of nine during the Depression. While deciding between entering the priesthood and a business career, Gregory opted to study economics at Princeton University. He finished a year at Princeton before enlisting in the US Army Air Force at the start of World War II, and served as a fighter pilot in Europe during the war. After the war, Gregory simultaneously gained both a Bachelor's degree at Princeton University and a Master's degree at Harvard University. Then in 1949, he began his career at the Rohm and Haas Company by conducting internal auditing in three plants. After three years, Gregory was transferred to France to start up the first Rohm and Haas plant outside the United States. He then ran Rohm and Haas' agricultural-chemical operations in England before becoming Director of European Operations. Under his leadership, Rohm and Haas-Europe's share of total company profits increased from one to thirty percent, building on postwar conditions and Rohm and Haas' quality products and customer service. Gregory then returned to the United States to head operations in Latin America and the Pacific. In 1970, F. Otto Haas chose Gregory as the first non-family president of Rohm and Haas. Gregory instituted such changes as a ten percent across-the-board downsizing, adding board directors from outside Rohm and Haas, and revamping the company's management system. The oil crisis, along with DuPont Lycra's increasing market share in polyesters, led to Gregory's decision to withdraw Rohm and Haas' stretch fabric, Anim-8, from the market. Gregory then focused the company's product lines on polymers, plastics, and agricultural chemicals. Additionally, he tightened the company's environmental controls when bis-chloromethyl ether was discovered to cause cancer in rats and participated in hearings leading to the passage of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). Gregory's support of R&D led to the development of Vacor, which was later taken off the market, and Blazer. Here, Gregory discusses the CEO's role in supporting R&D, his views on teamwork, and the future of innovation in the chemical industry. He ends the interview by describing his work with the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT) and the Center for Cancer Prevention at Harvard University.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1949 Princeton University BA Economics
1949 Harvard University MBA

Professional Experience

US Army

1941 to 1942
1942 to 1945
Fighter Pilot, 374th Fighter Group, U.S. 8th Air Force, U.K.

Rohm and Haas

1949 to 1952
Plant Accounting Supervisor, Finance Division
1952 to 1955
Financial Manager, Société Minoc, France
1955 to 1958
Assistant Managing Director, Lenning Chemicals, England
1958 to 1964
Managing Director, Lenning Chemicals
1964 to 1968
Director, European Operations
1968 to 1970
Assistant General Manager, Foreign Operations
1970 to 1978
President and Chief Executive Officer
1970 to 1978
Member, Board of Directors
1978 to 1988
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
1988
Retired

Honors

Year(s) Award
1984

Public Service Award, Harvard School of Public Health

1988

Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

1989

Alumni Achievement Award, Harvard Business School

Table of Contents

Family Background and Early Education
1

Depression years in large family. High school career as class president and valedictorian. Decision to go to Princeton. Outbreak of World War II.

World War II
3

Fighter pilot with US Army Air Force in Europe. Parachute made into bridal gown for wife-to-be.

Completion of Education; Early Career
6

Simultaneous pursuit of B.A. at Princeton University and MBA at Harvard University Business School. Decision to work with Rohm and Haas Company. First job in plant accounting supervisors group. Mr. Otto Haas' dominance of Rohm and Haas and designation of successor, F. Otto Haas.

Career in Europe
9

Transfer to France to build first Rohm and Haas plant in Europe. Managing European operations through branch in England. Promotion to directorship of European operations: growth from one to thirty percent of company's business. Market for Rohm and Haas products. Relationship with US management. Competition with other US firms. Joint product development work with Maag Company in Switzerland. Promotion to operations head of Latin America and the Pacific.

Rohm and Haas Presidency
19

Selection as next president and CEO by F. Otto Haas. Decision to downsize company by ten percent and bring in outside directors. Discovery of bis-chloromethyl ether's carcinogenic qualities: overall plant shutdown. Oil crisis and effect on fiber business. Decision to discard ANIM-8. Ralph Nader and TOSCA (Toxic Substance Control Act). Adoption of market share-market growth approach, matrix management system, team management, Return On Net Assets program (RONA), and phased innovation. Introduction of president-Chief Operating Officer position. Development of Vacor and Blazer. Product line focus on polymers, plastics, and agricultural chemicals. Partial acquisitions of Borg-Warner and ion exchange from Diamond Shamrock.

Views of Business Leadership
35

CEO's role in developing R&D. Development of teamwork. Enactment of Superfund with Irving S. Shapiro. Public relations development. Relationship with Haas family.

Changes in the Chemical Industry
45

Industry trends toward diversification, consolidation, and MBA leadership of chemical companies. Future of innovation in chemical industry. Significance of winning Chemical Industry Award. Involvement with Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT) and Center for Cancer Prevention at Harvard University.

Notes
47
Index
48

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.