Richard E. Heckert

Born: January 13, 1924 | Oxford, OH, US
Died: January 3, 2010 | Meeteetse, WY, US
Photograph of Richard E. Heckert

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The interview traces Richard Heckert's early education and training, from high school and Miami University to Army work as a chemist at Oak Ridge, where management experience influenced his pursuit of a business career. He discusses safety considerations and atomic bomb work and reflects on dropping the bomb and developing atomic energy. Next the interview turns to Heckert's graduate career at the University of Illinois, his interest in organic chemistry, work and relationship with mentor Harold Snyder, and considerations in selecting a research chemist position at DuPont. The majority of the interview details Heckert's experience and rise through management at DuPont: early work with TCNE and tricyanovinyl compounds for dyeing; and various positions at DuPont's Spruance, Clinton, and Circleville plants and in the Film and Plastics Departments.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0123
No. of pages: 53
Minutes: 152

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
13 December 1994
E. I. duPont de Nemours & Co., Wilmington, Delaware

Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Richard E. Heckert discussing his family background and childhood as the son of a Miami University of Ohio professor of education. Throughout the interview, he refers to his brother Winfield, a significantly older DuPont executive who influenced his interest and education in chemistry. The interview traces Heckert's early education and training, from high school and Miami University to Army work as a chemist at Oak Ridge, where management experience influenced his pursuit of a business career. He discusses safety considerations and atomic bomb work and reflects on dropping the bomb and developing atomic energy. Next the interview turns to Heckert's graduate career at the University of Illinois, his interest in organic chemistry, work and relationship with mentor Harold Snyder, and considerations in selecting a research chemist position at DuPont. The majority of the interview details Heckert's experience and rise through management at DuPont: early work with TCNE and tricyanovinyl compounds for dyeing; and various positions at DuPont's Spruance, Clinton, and Circleville plants and in the Film and Plastics Departments. Heckert describes management lessons emphasizing safety practices, customer relations, and decisions on dealing with product developments such as Corfam. After focusing on promotions to vice president, senior vice president and executive committee member, Heckert discusses the reasons and strategies for reducing R&D and details problems with dyes, CFCs, and TEL, emphasizing DuPont's responsibility to consider trade-offs and costs in environmental decisions. Next Heckert summarizes his involvement with environmental concerns and legislation. The final section focuses on Heckert's career as president, COO, and CEO; discussions touch on the division of labor within top management and the Board, Ed Jefferson's role, company growth and acquisitions including Conoco. Heckert describes his marketing emphasis as CEO, changes in relationships between operating departments and executive committee members, DuPont's role in global ventures, hiring from outside the company, and desire for a smooth transition to Woolard. Closing comments touch on scientific innovation, promoting creativity in personnel, major changes in the industry, chemical innovation, and the SCI award.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1944 Miami University of Ohio BA
1947 University of Illinois at Chicago MS Organic Chemistry
1949 University of Illinois at Chicago PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1949 to 1954
Research Chemist
1954 to 1957
Film Department Supervisor, Cellophane Research & Development Lab Assistant Manager, Cellophane Research and Development Lab
1957
Technical Superintendent, Spruance Cellophane Plant, Virginia
1957 to 1958
Technical Superintendent, Clinton Cellophane Plant, Iowa
1958 to 1963
Assistant Manager/Plant Manager, Circleville Mylar Plant, Ohio
1963 to 1965
Supporting Research Director/Director, Research and Development Division
1965 to 1967
Assistant General Manager, Film Department
1967 to 1969
Assistant General Manager, Plastics Department
1969 to 1972
General Manager, Fabrics and Finishes Department
1972 to 1973
Vice President
1973 to 1981
Director, Senior Vice President, Executive Committee Member
1981
President, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Committee Vice Chair
1981 to 1985
Vice Chairman
1986 to 1987
Deputy Chairman, Board of Directors
1987 to 1989
Chairman, Chief Executive Officer

Honors

Year(s) Award
1984

Honorary ScD, Miami University

1988

Honorary ScD, University of Delaware

1988

Honorary Doctor of Business Administration, Goldey Beacom College

1989

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

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Family background. Influence of older brother in choice of career in chemistry.

College and Graduate Education
2

Enrollment at Miami University of Ohio. Influence of World War II on college experience. Induction into US Army. Work on atomic bomb at Oak Ridge. Opinions on dropping of atomic bomb. MA and PhD in organic chemistry from Illinois University. Collaboration with mentor Harold Snyder.

Early Career at DuPont (E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. )
10

Work on tetracyanoethylene and tricyanovinyl dyes. Transfer to Spruance Cellophane Plant, Virginia, as technical superintendent. Resolution of safety problems as manager of Circleville Mylar Plant, Ohio. Experiences as assistant general manager of Film and Plastics Departments. Development of Corfam as general manager of Fabrics and Finishes Department.

Career from Vice Presidency to Executive Committee Member at DuPont
21

Appointment to vice presidency of DuPont. Reduction of Research and Development within DuPont to control spending. Thoughts on uses of research. Phase out of dye business. Discontinuation of manufacture of ozone-depleting products. Development of lead-free gasoline. Public relations and environmental concerns. Development of environmental legislation with US Congress as Chemical Manufacturers Association representative.

Career from Presidency to CEO at DuPont
33

DuPont's movement into agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Acquisition of Conoco. Shift within DuPont towards emphasis on marketing. Economic growth of DuPont. Change in relationship between operating departments and executive committee. DuPont's global ventures. Views on scientific innovation, promoting creativity in personnel, changes in chemical industry, chemical innovation, and the SCI award.

Notes
48
Index
49

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.