Whitson Sadler

Born: November 30, 1940 | Bristol, TN, US

Whitson Sadler, who was born in Bristol, Tennessee, discusses his early life in various places due to his father's work relocations, eventually earning a degree in economics at Sewanee, the University of the South, and then enlisting in the US Navy. After his service, Sadler graduated from the Harvard Business School, and began to work at Lazard Frères & Co. but ultimately left to become vice chairman and CEO of Solvay America. Sadler figured prominently in the Soltex Polymer Corporation board and the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and Solvay America prospered under his leadership before he retired.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0347
No. of pages: 52
Minutes: 224

Interview Sessions

Arthur Daemmrich and Jeffrey McDaniel
19 June 2007

Abstract of Interview

Whitson Sadler begins his interview with a description of his family history, which he traces back to an English missionary in the 1600s. Born in Bristol, Tennessee, Sadler was the middle son of two formally trained schoolteachers. As a young boy, Sadler's father accepted a position as a ticket agent at American Airlines, which caused the family to move several times during Sadler's formative years. Sadler attended high school in Long Island, followed by a year of post-graduate prep school in New Hampshire at The New Hampton School. After this post-graduate year, Sadler enrolled at the Sewanee, the University of the South where he excelled in mathematics; this eventually led him to pursue a degree in economics. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Sadler enlisted in the US Navy, spending most of his four-year service in Washington, DC and Norfolk, Virginia.
Following his time in the Navy, Sadler attended Harvard Business School. Upon graduating, Sadler was offered a position at Lazard Frères & Co. , where he worked first as an associate and then as a general partner, for seven years. It was during this time that Sadler first began to work with Solvay S. A. , which was expanding its business to the United States. After working on the Soltex Polymer Corporation board, Sadler became more familiar with the company and in 1977, left Lazard Frères & Co. to become vice chairman and, after a year, CEO of Solvay America, Inc. Over the next two decades, Sadler worked to expand the depth and breadth of Solvay's various product lines, and became an important member of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, helping to develop the Responsible Care program. Solvay America prospered under his leadership, reaching over 25 percent of Solvay's overall sales by the time of his retirement. Sadler concludes his interview with a discussion of current politics and his activities since retirement.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1963 Sewanee: The University of the South BS Economics
1969 MBA

Professional Experience

Lazard & Frères

1970 to 1974
1975 to 1977
General Partner

Solvay America, Inc.

Vice Chairman
1978 to 2001
Chief Executive Officer

Houston Museum of Natural Science

1994 to 1996
Member, Board of Trustees

Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

1996 to 1997

Southdown, Inc.

1996 to 2000
Member, Board of Directors

Chemical Manufacturers Association

2000 to 2001

Belden, Inc.

2000 to 2004
Member, Board of Directors

Solvay SA

2001 to 2005
Member, Board of Directors

American Plastics Council



Year(s) Award

Chevalier, Order of King Leopold, Belgium


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

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education

The Sadler family history. Father's career at American Airlines. Living with dyslexia. High school in Long Island. Post-graduate year at the New Hampton School. Attending Sewanee, the University of the South as an economics major.

Naval Career and Harvard Business School

Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. In Washington, DC as part of computer support group. Working in Honolulu. Air Intelligence School in Norfolk. Celebration at Breezy Point Officers' Club. Meeting future wife. Professor Walt Salmon and Dr. Christianson. Creating an acquisition analysis program with cohorts.

Lazard Frères & Co.

Working for Felix Rohatyn. First attempt to create a deal, between O. M. Scott and Toro. Frank Pizzitola and first dealings with Solvay SA. Soltex Polymer Corporation. Claude Loutrel. Solvay's acquisition of Celanese Corporation's high-density polyethylene business. Jacques Solvay's influence.

Solvay America, Inc.

Moving family to Texas. Becoming chief executive officer of Solvay America. Corpus Christi ethylene cracker. Ray R. Irani. Acquiring Tenneco Soda Ash Company. The original Solvay plant. Solvay's corporate culture. Moving into human pharmaceuticals. The Responsible Care program. Benefits of the Solvay family's involvement in company.

The Future of Solvay

Growing sales percentage contributed to United States. Potential growth in specialty and high performance plastics. Solvay's expansion in to China and India. Pharmaceutical products pipeline. Work on American Plastics Council board and parallels to the American Chemistry Council. Future impact of Europe's REACH regulatory framework. Management challenges while at Solvay. Solvay's current leadership team.


Life after retirement. Various board commitments. Current relationship with Jacques Solvay and other industry friends. Attending the 2000 Republican convention in support of George W. Bush. The importance of educating people about the chemical industry. President George W. Bush. Current interests.


About the Interviewer

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a PhD in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

Jeffrey McDanielJeffrey McDaniel is the senior director of development for the New London Hospital in New London, New Hampshire. He spent several years at the Chemical Heritage Foundation as a major gifts officer, associate director, and assistant director. McDaniel holds an AB in Religion from Dartmouth College and has completed post-baccalaureate studies at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), Villanova University, and the Community College of Philadelphia. He played an integral role in planning and executing the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Initiative.