Harold A. Sorgenti

Born: May 28, 1934 | New York, NY, US
Died: July 11, 2018 | Philadelphia, PA, US
Photograph of Harold A. Sorgenti

Harold A. Sorgenti. Science History Institute Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

Harold Sorgenti begins by discussing his family background and childhood in New York City. He attended public school in Brooklyn and graduated City College with a BS in chemical engineering. He found a job after college at Battelle Memorial Institute, and while working received his masters in chemical engineering from Ohio State University. He joined the Atlantic Richfield Oil Corporation (ARCO), where he was quickly promoted into management. After a long career with ARCO Sorgenti undertook entrepreneurial ventures. Sorgenti ends the interview by reflecting on his philanthropic involvements and family life. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0170
No. of pages: 198
Minutes: 942

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray
12 May 1998, 15 March, 10 June 1999 and 10 January 2003
Haverford, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Harold Sorgenti begins the interview by discussing his family background and childhood.  He attended public school in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated City College with a BS in chemical engineering.  During his early life, Sorgenti faced the harshness of blatant prejudice aimed at his Italian heritage.  He was able to find a job after college at Battelle Memorial Institute, with the help of a government quota for minorities.  While working in research there, Sorgenti received his masters in chemical engineering from Ohio State University.  After four years at Battelle, Sorgenti left to work in research for Atlantic Richfield Oil Corporation (ARCO).  Sorgenti had a highly productive research career and invented several production processes, such as making benzene from toluene by hydrodealkylation.  Because of his exemplary managerial skills and ability to take risks, Sorgenti was promoted first to director of development and then to head to research and engineering at ARCO.  Eventually, he became the president of ARCO Chemical, a subdivision of ARCO.  Sorgenti urged the company’s CEO, Robert Anderson, to buy control of Oxirane, which Sorgenti later built in to a highly successful company.  From the beginning of his presidency in 1979, to his retirement in 1991, Sorgenti increased ARCO’s net worth by two billion dollars.  Sorgenti has always believed that a manager’s most important job was to provide safety for his employees.  He felt that shareholders were preventing him from accomplishing that task at ARCO, so he resigned and then co-founded the Freedom Chemical Company.  There, Sorgenti helped organize many transactions, including one with the Kalama Chemical Company.  When Freedom’s investment partner, JLL, decided to sell the company to B.F. Goodrich, Sorgenti founded a new company named, Sorgenti Investment Partners.  Throughout his career, Sorgenti has joined many corporate boards, and worked hard to make the selection of new executives and board members an open process.  Sorgenti ends the interview by reflecting on his philanthropic involvements and family life.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1956 City College of New York BS Chemical Engineering
1959 Ohio State University MS Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Battelle Memorial Institute

1955 to 1959
Research

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1955 to 1959
Assistant Development Engineer
1961 to 1966
Development Engineer

Atlantic Richfield Oil Company (ARCO)

1968 to 1972
Manager of Process Development (Harvey, Illinois)
1972 to 1975
Manager of Evaluation, Planning Coordination and Supply Department (Los Angeles, California)
1975 to 1976
Vice President, Research and Engineering, Products Division (Los Angeles, California)
1966 to 1968
Development Engineer

ARCO Chemical Company

1976 to 1979
Senior Vice President, Chemical Department (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
1979 to 1987
President
1987 to 1991
President and Chief Executive Officer

Freedom Chemical Company

1991 to 1996
Co-founder and Chairman

Sorgenti Investment Partners

1996 to 2005
Founder and General Partner

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981

Leadership Award, Junior Achievement of Delaware Valley

1981

Business and Industry Award, Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, Inc.

1981

Achievement Award, National Italian American Foundation

1982

Industrialist of the Year Award, Society of Industrial Realtors

1982

Beta Gamma Sigma Honoree

1982

Honorary Doctor of Law Degree, Villanova University

1982

Civic Achievement Award, American Jewish Committee Human Relations

1983

Benjamin G. Lamme Medal, Ohio State University, College of Engineering

1983

Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Saint Joseph's University

1983

Distinguished Service Award, Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, Inc. (OIC), Leon Sullivan, Founder

1984

"Commendotore" Order of Merit, Republic of Italy

1985

William Penn Award, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce

1985

Drum Major Award for Corporate Justice, Martin Luther King Association for Non-Violence

1991

Memorial Award, Chemical Market Research Association

1991

Philip H. Ward Medal, Franklin Institute

1991

Honor Award, Commercial Development Association

1991

Business Leader of the Year Award, Drexel University

1991

Campaign for Citizen Power Award, League of Women Voters

1992

"Touching Lives" Award, Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Philadelphia Area

1992

Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Family Background and Education
1

Birth during the Great Depression. Grandparents' emigration from Italy. Education. Summer job as Good Humor man. Uncle's electroplating business.

Social Injustice
9

Private school quotas. Parents' belief in equality. Attending City College of New York. Businesses, minorities, and hiring practices. Blatant prejudice. Effects of World War II.

Career at Battelle Memorial Institute
15

Race as primary reason for hire. Move to Ohio. Creative environment. Becoming an expert in nitric acid production. Masters at Ohio State University.

Career at Atlantic Richfield Oil Corporation (ARCO)
21

Move to Philadelphia. Research. Prejudiced environment. Robert Anderson. Process for soft detergents. Process to produce benzene by hydrodealkylation. Director of development at Sinclair Laboratories. Promotion to head of research and engineering at ARCO.

ARCO Chemical
30

Bill Keishnick. Bob Bent. Dick Bressler. Becoming president of ARCO Chemical. Reasons for quick promotions. Pacemaker business. Centennial Hydrocarbon joint venture. Oxirane and Halcon International. Cyril C. Baldwin. MTBE and gasoline. Herbert Denenberg. Taking ARCO Chemical global. Not in full control over company. Promoting diversity. Plant explosion. Lodwrick Cook. Senior vice president of manufacturing position. Leaving ARCO Chemical. Bill Flaherty.

Career at Freedom Chemical Company
64

Formation of Freedom Chemical. Finding investment partners. Treating employees well. Fred Rullo. Gordon Cain. Going public. Equity and returns. Finding good deals and contacts. Acquisitions. Philip Kamins. Hilton-Davis Company. Kalama Chemical Company. Kick-backs and pay-offs. Joseph Littlejohn and Levy investment firm and selling Freedom Chemical Company. Management's obligations to employees.

Philanthropy
92

The Opportunities Industrial Center. Reverend Sullivan. Summer Job Program. Philadelphia Orchestra board. Chemical Manufacturers Association. Operation Dialogue.

Corporate Boards
100

Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company. CoreStates Financial Corporation. Morey Dorrance. O'Brien Energy Systems. Frank O'Brien. Crown Cork and Seal. The Pennsylvania Academy. Henry McNeil. University of the Arts. Changing prejudiced views. Chamber of Commerce. W. Thatcher Longstreth.

Career at Sorgenti Investment Partners
112

Raising a fund. Foamex. Marshall Cogan. Morgan Stanley Capital Partners. Cartel activity. Propylene oxide. Conditions for profitability. Chinese successes.

Family Life
127

Meeting and marrying Ann Sorgenti. Erlen Neighbors Association. Daughters Beth and Lucy. Wynn Hannock business. Breast Cancer. Robert's death. Bianca Ottone and family history.

Notes
139
Appendix
140

The life of Harold A. Sorgenti presented through photographs.

Appendix (cont.): Family Life
142
Appendix (cont.): Corporate Life
151
Appendix (cont.): Events & Awards
166
Appendix (cont.): Religion
181
Index
185

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.