J. Lawrence Wilson

Born: March 2, 1936 | Rosedale, MS, US

J. Lawrence Wilson begins his oral history interview with a discussion of his childhood in Rosedale, Mississippi and education at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. After high school, he received a Naval Reserves Officer Training Corps scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University, where he majored in mechanical engineering. Wilson graduated in 1958, and he then served in the Navy for several years, stationed in Bermuda. When he returned, Wilson attended Harvard Business School, receiving his MBA. in 1963. Two years later, he joined Rohm and Haas Company. Wilson discusses his views on scientific innovation, his time in Europe, and the changes in Rohm and Haas and the chemical industry, in general, over the past three decades. Wilson concludes the interview with a discussion of the chemical industry's environmental concerns, Rohm and Haas's acquisition of Morton International, his work with the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and his family.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0184
No. of pages: 26
Minutes: 90

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
30 August 1999
Rohm and Haas Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

J. Lawrence Wilson begins the interview with a discussion of his childhood and early education. Wilson grew up in Rosedale, Mississippi, and attended Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. After high school, he received a Naval Reserves Officer Training Corps scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University, where he majored in mechanical engineering. Wilson graduated in 1958, and he then served in the Navy for several years as a member of the SEABEEs, stationed in Bermuda. When he returned, Wilson attended Harvard Business School, receiving his MBA in 1963. After graduate school, Wilson came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a friend to start a private equity firm. Two years later, he joined Rohm and Haas Company. Wilson discusses his experiences in operations research and as treasurer for Rohm and Haas subsidiary Warren-Teed. He also talks about his views on scientific innovation. Wilson further addresses the company's electronics business, his time in Europe, and the changes in Rohm and Haas and the chemical industry, in general, over the past three decades. Wilson concludes the interview with a discussion of the chemical industry's environmental concerns, Rohm and Haas's acquisition of Morton International, his work with the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and his family.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1958 Vanderbilt University BS Mechanical Engineering
1963 Harvard University MBA Finance

Professional Experience

US Navy

1958 to 1961
Officer

Nyala Properties, Inc.

1963 to 1965
Vice President

Warren-Teed Pharmaceuticals

1967 to 1968
Treasurer
1968 to 1969
Vice President

Consolidated Biomedical Laboratories, Inc.

1970 to 1971
President

Rohm and Haas Company

1965 to 1967
Staff Associate
1971 to 1972
Executive Assistant to the President
1972 to 1974
Treasurer
1974 to 1977
Regional Director, Rohm and Haas, Europe
1977 to 1986
Group Vice President and Director
1986 to 1988
Vice Chairman
1988 to 1999
Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer

Honors

Year(s) Award
1999

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

Table of Contents

Family Background and Education
1

Growing up in Mississippi. Parents. Attending Culver Military Academy. NROTC scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Decision to study mechanical engineering.

Early Career
2

Naval service in Bermuda. SEABEEs. Graduate school at Harvard Business School. Setting up private equity firm in Philadelphia.

Rohm and Haas
4

Decision to join Rohm and Haas. Operations research. Running operations for Warren-Teed. Chemistry courses at University of Pennsylvania. Assistant to Vincent Gregory, Jr. Views on scientific innovation. Photoresists. Running the European businesses. Becoming Chief Financial Officer. Reorganizing company.

Industry and the Environment
11

Regulation. Superfund. Developing Responsible Care. Importance of public attitudes.

Changes in Chemical Industry
12

Becoming global. Consolidations within the industry. Future of chemical innovation.

Conclusion
16

Role in Chemical Manufacturers Association. Winning Chemical Industry medal. Retirement plans. Family life.

Notes
23
Index
24

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.