Paul F. Oreffice

Born: November 29, 1927 | Venice, IT

Paul Oreffice describes his interests in entering a commercial career and his career at Dow, reflecting on the development of Dow International and Dow in general as a place for world innovation in plant engineering and product development. Oreffice also offers his views on environmental concerns and government regulations. Oreffice also discusses the chemical industry and Dow in light of industry changes, such as internationalization and consolidation. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0143
No. of pages: 50
Minutes: 465

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
31 March 1995
Oreffice Residence, Scottsdale, Arizona

Abstract of Interview

Paul Oreffice begins this interview with a discussion of his early education and interests in science and business. He describes his desire to enter a commercial career and his first positions at Dow. He next moves to his relationships with Clayton Shoemaker and Ben Branch, their influence in his early career at Dow International, and the impact of his association with Carl Gerstacker. Oreffice then examines the development of Dow International, its impact on Dow USA, and Dow in general as a place for world innovation in plant engineering and product development. Next, he describes his views of management, making decisions and developing personnel. He also provides some insight into his views and handling of public issues such as environmental concerns and government regulations. Towards the middle of the interview, Oreffice focuses on the chemical industry as a whole, discussing changes within Dow in the context of industry changes. He emphasizes the internationalization of the industry and the market, mentioning consolidation and licensing, the impact of nonchemical companies, and buying and developing technology. He also discusses the future of the industry, stressing the importance of basic research and developing public perceptions of the industry. Oreffice ends the interview by describing his feelings about winning industry awards and retiring, and looking back on the impact of his career at Dow. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1949 Purdue University BS Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Dow Chemical Company

1953 to 1955
International Sales, Midland
1955 to 1956
Sales Manager, Mediterranean Area, Milan, Italy
1956 to 1963
General Manager, Dow Quimica do Brazil
1963 to 1966
Commercial Director, Dow Unquinesa, Bilbao, Spain
1966 to 1969
General Manager, Dow Chemical, Latin America
1969 to 1970
Director, Financial Services
1970 to 1975
Vice President, Corporate Finance
1975 to 1978
President, Dow Chemical USA
1978 to 1987
President and Chief Executive Officer, The Dow Chemical Company
1986 to 1992
Chairman of the Board


Year(s) Award

Encomienda del Merito Civil, Spain


Honorary Doctor of Engineering Degree, Purdue University


Grand Ufficiale Honor, Italy


Honorary Degree, Business Administration, Tri-State University


International Palladium Medal, Société de Chemie


Honorary Degree, Industrial Management, Lawrence Institute of Technology


Sagamore of the Wabash Award, State of Indiana


Honorary Degree, Science, Saginaw Valley State College


Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry


Honorary Degree, Business Administration, South Dakota School of Mines


Man of Vision Award, Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration


Honorary Degree, Management, General Motors Institute


Centenary Medal, Society of Chemical Industry


Man of the Year, Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce


Honorary Doctor of Laws, Clemson University

Table of Contents

Early Education

Influence of third grade teacher and father on interests and personality. High school education in Ecuador and emphasis on science and math.

Early Career Development

Decision to work for Dow International. Sales position and effects of shyness. Move to Dow offices in Europe and Brazil. Relationships with Clayton Shoemaker, Ben Branch, Carl Gerstacker. Views of Dow International. Relations between Dow USA and Dow International; personnel practices. Influence in changing composition of the Board.

View of Innovation

Importance of being best internationally. New product discovery, plant engineering, product improvement, business products. Competition. Influence of World War II. Innovation and personnel.

View of Management

Adoption of management techniques. Deal with personnel. Example of polycarbonates development. Gut instinct and example of chlorine cells. Loyalty and creativity. Individual personalities and strategies for developing personnel.

View of Public Issues

Environmental concerns and the Superfund. Dow's support for his public stance. EPA and government/industry relations. Dow's relations with the CMA, the Business Roundtable, the Business Council, and Congress.

View of Changes at Dow and in the Chemical Industry

Effects of stockholders on Dow and other companies. Internationalization and the global economy. Decline of integrated chemical companies, competitors. Consolidation and licensing. Dow and the pharmaceutical business. The FDA, Seldane, and other products. Marion Merrell-Dow. Dow's research emphasis and internal reward system. Diversification vs. solidification of the core business. The future vitality of chemical innovation. The vulnerability and importance of basic research. Problems with the public perception of the industry.

Meaning Attributed to Public Awards

Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) Award, Palladium and Centenary Medals, Spanish government award. SCI Medal address and view of legal profession.

Closing Comments

Retirement activities. Professional life, board activity, horse racing, and travel. Opportunities in the U. S. Diversification in Dow and the industry. Carl Gerstacker, Ben Branch; ethical integrity at Dow and corruption in international chemical industry. Personal impact on Dow culture. Gambling at Dow.

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.