Huntsman Receives 2004 Othmer Medal: Discusses Challenges of Global Chemical Industry in Chemical Engineering Progress

August 1, 2004 - Philadelphia, PA

By Neil Gussman

With over 200 chemical engineers and chemists in attendance, the 2004 Othmer Gold Medal was awarded to Jon M. Huntsman at the Chemical Heritage Foundation's third annual Heritage Day in Philadelphia on June 17. The Chemical Heritage Foundation's (CHF) highest award, the Othmer Gold Medal, recognizes an individual's contributions to chemical heritage through exceptional service in research, innovation, legislation, or philanthropy.

Huntsman-chemical engineer, philanthropist, and chairman of a $9 billion corporation that bears his name-humbly accepted the award saying, "There are so many in this hall who are far more deserving of this award than lam."

Presenting the award were Arnold Thackray, president of CHF, and Harold Sorgenti, chair of the CHF Board of Directors. Huntsman acknowledged Sorgenti as a mentor and friend."Without Hal's concern for a young entrepreneur many years ago, I don't know that we ever would have been able to launch our business," he said.

Huntsman recalled the beginnings of his container business, including product testing: "My wife, Karen, put our polystyrene containers in the dishwasher to test them for cracks and breakage. Our R&D budget was zero." From early success in packaging, Huntsman built the business through acquisition. "We were in the market at the right time, buying low during down cycles, and repeating the same formula," Huntsman said.

Turning to the theme of his talk, "The Global Chemical Industry: A Realignment of the Stars," Huntsman said, "The chemical industry is in the midst of a great realignment, not unlike the stars at equinox. Not much had changed in the half century preceding the time when we started in the business. But many great changes have happened in just the past few years."

"We must go forward, as part of a great industry, focusing on safety, environmental stewardship, and research and development," he said. "But the industry today faces enormous challenges: regulation, wild energy cycles, terrorism, ruinous currency swings, pressure to move offshore, and Wal-Mart's impact on margins."

Despite the challenges Huntsman enumerated, he also sees hope for the future of the global chemical industry. he said the managers who have survived the downsizing of the last several years are tougher and are ready to meet the challenges of the future. he then defined a battle line between the energy industry and the chemical industry, which has been publicized much in the recent news.

"The chemical industry is very different in every possible aspect from the oil and natural gas producers who are our suppliers," Huntsman said enunciating a significant realignment of the stars. "Let's not confuse the two. One's victory is the other's loss. We dislike saying this because for many years we have been like brother and sister."

"The energy suppliers must take stock of the carnage they have caused in the chemical industry for the past four years while reaping record profits," Huntsman said. Then said both sides must be "wise as Solomon" and come to a place where "everybody wins."...

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