Edgar S. Woolard, Jr.

Born: April 15, 1934 | Washington, NC, US

Edgar Woolard begins his oral history interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Washington, North Carolina, where his parents encouraged him to excel in both academic and social environments. Woolard enrolled in North Carolina State University as a nuclear engineering major. In his junior year, he switched his major to industrial engineering, received his BS in 1956, and accepted a position at Alcoa in Maryville, Tennessee. Woolard left Alcoa after one year to serve a six-month term in the US Army. Upon his return, he was offered a job at DuPont, where he was shortly promoted into management. Woolard entered DuPont's Planning Division in 1976, where he oversaw many breakthroughs in DuPont polymers, especially Dacron production. Throughout his career, Woolard helped shape DuPont into a more streamlined and environmentally friendly company. In 1983, under DuPont's new system, Woolard was given responsibility for three departments: Agricultural Chemicals Division, Medical Division, and Photo Products Division. He served in that capacity for three years before becoming Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, becoming CEO in 1987. Although his tenure was difficult, his efforts proved successful for both DuPont and its employees. For his earnest reorganization of DuPont, Woolard received the Chemical Industry Medal in 1998. Woolard concluded the interview with a discussion of DuPont's major achievements during his career, retirement, and thoughts on his family.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0182
No. of pages: 39
Minutes: 179

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
10 June 1999
Wilmington, Delaware

Abstract of Interview

Edgar Woolard begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Washington, North Carolina. Woolard's parents encouraged him to excel in both academic and social environments. As a high-school student, Woolard held an interest in mathematics. After graduation, Woolard enrolled in North Carolina State University as a nuclear engineering major. Woolard enjoyed college life and was involved in several extra-curricular activities, including serving as house manager for his fraternity. In his junior year, he switched his major to industrial engineering and received his BS in this field in 1956. Shortly after graduating from NC State, Woolard married his junior-high-school sweetheart and accepted a position at Alcoa in Maryville, Tennessee. Woolard left Alcoa after one year to serve a six-month term in the US Army. Upon his return, he was offered a job at DuPont in industrial engineering. After two years, he was promoted into management as a supervisor, a position that Woolard relished. He quickly rose through the ranks at DuPont, gaining valuable learning experiences from each promotion. Woolard entered DuPont's Planning Division in 1976, where he oversaw many breakthroughs in DuPont polymers, especially Dacron production. Throughout his career, Woolard helped shape DuPont into a more streamlined and environmentally friendly company. In the late 1970s, DuPont responded to a spike in oil prices and high inflation by reducing senior management and combining departments. In 1983, under DuPont's new system, Woolard was given responsibility for three departments: Agricultural Chemicals Division, Medical Division, and Photo Products Division. He served in that capacity for three years before becoming Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer. Woolard became CEO in 1987 and worked to both streamline and evenly downsize DuPont for the good of the company. Although this period was difficult, his efforts proved successful for both DuPont and its employees. For his earnest reorganization of DuPont, Woolard received the Chemical Industry Medal in 1998. Woolard concluded the interview with a discussion of DuPont's major achievements during his career, retirement, and thoughts on his family.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1956 North Carolina State University at Raleigh BS Industrial Engineering

Professional Experience

Alcoa Corporation

1956 to 1957
Industrial engineering

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1957 to 1959
Industrial Engineer
1959 to 1962
Group Supervisor, industrial engineering
1962 to 1964
Supervisor, manufacturing section
1964 to 1965
Planning Supervisor
1965 to 1966
Staff Assistant to Production Manager
1966 to 1969
Production Supervisor
1969 to 1970
Engineering Supervisor
1970 to 1971
Assistant Plant Manager
1971 to 1973
Plant Manager
1973 to 1975
Director, Product Marketing Division
1975 to 1976
Managing Director, Textile Marketing Division
1976 to 1977
Manager, Corporate Planning
1977 to 1978
General Director, Products and Planning Department
1978 to 1981
General Manager, Textile Fibers
1981 to 1983
Vice President
1983 to 1985
Executive Vice President
1985 to 1987
Vice Chairman
1987 to 1989
President and Chief Operating Officer
1989 to 1996
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
1996 to 1998
Chairman

Honors

Year(s) Award
1995

International Palladium Medal, Society of Chemical Industry

1998

Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Growing up in Washington, North Carolina. Influence of parents. Interest in mathematics. Decision to attend North Carolina State University. Majoring in nuclear engineering. Enjoying college life. Switching major to industrial engineering. Graduation from college.

Career Beginnings
6

Marriage. Moving to Maryville, Tennessee. Employment with Alcoa. Leaving Alcoa for military service. Interviewing at DuPont's new plant in North Carolina. Accepting position with DuPont in industrial engineering. Moving into management.

DuPont
11

Working shift operations. Managing people with good communication. Planning Department. Dacron production plant. Working with scientists. Using waste materials to make products. Polyesters. Work ethic at DuPont.

Management
19

Competition. Coping with inflation. Transfer into Marketing. OPEC oil crisis. David Barnes. Reorganization. Textile Fibers Department. Streamlining departments. Management changes. Reduction of employees and management. Success of continuous improvement. New joint-ventures and innovations. Future of innovation at DuPont.

Conclusion
30

DuPont poised for future. Winning Chemical Industry Medal. Importance of teamwork and good leadership. Setting goals. Family.

Index
36

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.