J. Roger Hirl

Born: April 1, 1931 | Bettendorf, IA, US
Died: January 8, 2017 | Dallas, TX, US

J. Roger Hirl studied liberal arts and business in college, but entered chemical industry due to a job for Skelly Oil Company. Hirl moved on to Olin Mathieson Chemical Company (later known as Olin Corporation), where he was notably active in litigation regarding DDT sediments and mercury emissions. In 1983, Hirl joined Occidental Chemical Corporation and became interested in environmental concerns, most notably including his involvement in the Love Canal situation.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0177
No. of pages: 29
Minutes: 90

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
29 January 1999
Dallas, Texas

Abstract of Interview

J. Roger Hirl begins the interview with a discussion of his early life and education. Hirl grew up in Iowa and Minnesota. After graduating from high school, Hirl attended the University of Iowa, earning his BLS in liberal studies in 1957. While he was still in school, Hirl was drafted to serve in the Korean War, returning to the University of Iowa two years later. His early focus in college was pre-med, but he soon switched to business and liberal arts. Hirl worked for Skelly Oil Company both during school and after graduation. In 1961, he joined Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, working in field sales. Six years later, he became a temporary assistant product manager in New York; this experience confirmed his desire to move into management at Olin. He continued to rise in sales management, moving from New York to Connecticut to Texas. He eventually became senior vice president of Olin Chemicals, a position he held until 1983, when he accepted an offer from Occidental Chemical Corporation (OxyChem). At Olin, Hirl was active in the litigation regarding DDT sediments and mercury emissions; as president of OxyChem, he became involved in the Love Canal situation. This interest in environmental concerns led him to become active in Responsible Care. Hirl also sought to improve OxyChem's safety record, and initiated special training programs. He discusses his view of chemical industry, his opinions on the future of chemical innovation, and OxyChem's involvement in the Asian market. Hirl concludes the interview with his reflections on winning the Chemical Industry Medal, a description of his family, his civic interests, and his views on attracting people to the chemical industry.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1957 University of Iowa BLS Liberal Arts

Professional Experience

Olin Corporation

1960 to 1967
Field sales, Blockson Chemical Company (Olin-Matheison Chemical Corporation)
1967 to 1968
Assistant Product Manager
1968 to 1970
Product Manager, Organic Chemicals
1970 to 1973
Regional Manager, Sales, Houston Division
1973 to 1976
Sales Manager, Industrial Products
1976 to 1977
Director of Marketing, Industrial Products
1977 to 1978
Vice-president and General Manager, Industrial Chemicals Division
1978 to 1979
Vice-president and General Manager, Industrial Chemicals Division
1980 to 1983
Senior Vice-president, Chemicals Group

Occidental Chemical Corporation

1983 to 1991
President
1991
President and Chief Executive Officer

Honors

Year(s) Award
1991

Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Canisius College

1992

Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science, St. John's University

1994

Individual Award for Philanthropy, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

1996

Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science, Niagara University

1997

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

Table of Contents

Family Background and Early Education
1

Growing up in Iowa. Moving to Minnesota. Working on the farm. Davenport High School. Attending the University of Iowa.

University of Iowa
2

Studying pre-med. Serving in Korea. Interest in business. Degree in liberal studies. Family. Working for Skelly Oil Company.

Olin Corporation
3

Working in sales. Moving to Houston. Beginning in management. Moving up in management. Senior vice president. Decision to leave.

Environmental Concerns
6

EPA litigation on DDT sediments. Lawsuit on mercury emissions. Involvement in Responsible Care. Love Canal.

Occidental Chemical Corporation
9

Emphasis on safety. OSHA Star facilities. Innovative process technology.

Future of the Chemical Industry
14

Chemical innovation. Need to focus on environmental issues. Economic implications.

Conclusion
19

Receiving the Chemical Industry Medal. Honorary degrees. Family. Civic activities. Implications of liberal arts degree. Attracting youth to chemical industries.

Index
26

About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.