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Richard E. Heckert

Richard E. Heckert

Detail of Image, CHF Collections

  • Born: January 13, 1924, Oxford, Ohio
  • Died: January 3, 2010

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0123
Interview Date: December 13, 1994
Location: E. I. duPont de Nemours & Co., Wilmington, Delaware
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 53
Minutes: 153
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

The interview begins with Richard E. Heckert discussing his family background and childhood as the son of a Miami University of Ohio professor of education. Throughout the interview, he refers to his brother Winfield, a significantly older DuPont executive who influenced his interest and education in chemistry. The interview traces Heckert's early education and training, from high school and Miami University to Army work as a chemist at Oak Ridge, where management experience influenced his pursuit of a business career. He discusses safety considerations and atomic bomb work and reflects on dropping the bomb and developing atomic energy. Next the interview turns to Heckert's graduate career at the University of Illinois, his interest in organic chemistry, work and relationship with mentor Harold Snyder, and considerations in selecting a research chemist position at DuPont. The majority of the interview details Heckert's experience and rise through management at DuPont: early work with TCNE and tricyanovinyl compounds for dyeing; and various positions at DuPont's Spruance, Clinton, and Circleville plants and in the Film and Plastics Departments. Heckert describes management lessons emphasizing safety practices, customer relations, and decisions on dealing with product developments such as Corfam. After focusing on promotions to vice president, senior vice president and executive committee member, Heckert discusses the reasons and strategies for reducing R&D and details problems with dyes, CFCs, and TEL, emphasizing DuPont's responsibility to consider trade-offs and costs in environmental decisions. Next Heckert summarizes his involvement with environmental concerns and legislation. The final section focuses on Heckert's career as president, COO, and CEO; discussions touch on the division of labor within top management and the Board, Ed Jefferson's role, company growth and acquisitions including Conoco. Heckert describes his marketing emphasis as CEO, changes in relationships between operating departments and executive committee members, DuPont's role in global ventures, hiring from outside the company, and desire for a smooth transition to Woolard. Closing comments touch on scientific innovation, promoting creativity in personnel, major changes in the industry, chemical innovation, and the SCI award.


1944 B.A. Miami University of Ohio
1947 M.S., Organic Chemistry, University of Illinois
1949 Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1949 - 1954 Research Chemist

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1954 - 1957 Film Department Supervisor and Assistant Manager, Cellophane Research and Development

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1957 - 1957 Technical Superintendent, Spruance Cellophane Plant, Virginia

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1957 - 1958 Technical Superintendent, Clinton Cellophane Plant, Iowa

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1958 - 1963 Assistant Manager/Plant Manager, Circleville Mylar Plant, Ohio

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1963 - 1965 Supporting Research Director/Director, Research and Development Division

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1965 - 1967 Assistant General Manager, Film Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1967 - 1969 Assistant General Manager, Plastics Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1969 - 1972 General Manager, Fabrics and Finishes Department

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1972 - 1973 Vice President

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1973 - 1981 Director, Senior Vice President, Executive Committee Member

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1981 - 1981 President, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Committee Vice Chair

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1981 - 1985 Vice Chairman

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1986 - 1987 Deputy Chairman, Board of Directors

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1987 - 1989 Chairman, Chief Executive Officer


1984 Honorary Sc.D., Miami University
1988 Honorary Sc.D., University of Delaware
1988 Honorary Doctor of Business Administration, Goldey Beacom College
1989 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Family background. Influence of older brother in choice of career in chemistry.

College and Graduate Education 2

Enrollment at Miami University of Ohio. Influence of World War II on college experience. Induction into U.S. Army. Work on atomic bomb at Oak ridge. Opinions on dropping of atomic bomb. M.A. and Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Illinois University. Collaboration with mentor Harold Snyder.

Early Career at DuPont (E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.) 10

Work on tetracyanoethylene and tricyanovinyl dyes. Transfer to Spruance Cellophane Plant, Virginia, as technical superintendent. Resolution of safety problems as manager of Circleville Mylar Plant, Ohio. Experiences as assistant general manager of Film and Plastics Departments. Development of Corfam as general manager of Fabrics and Finishes Department.

Career from Vice Presidency to Executive Committee Member at DuPont 21

Appointment to vice presidency of DuPont. Reduction of Research and Development within DuPont to control spending. Thoughts on uses of research. Phase out of dye business. Discontinuation of manufacture of ozone-depleting products. Development of lead-free gasoline. Public relations and environmental concerns. Development of environmental legislation with U.S. Congress as Chemical Manufacturers Association representative.

Career from Presidency to CEO at DuPont 33

DuPont's movement into agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Acquisition of Conoco. Shift within DuPont towards emphasis on marketing. Economic growth of DuPont. Change in relationship between operating departments and executive committee. DuPont's global ventures. Views on scientific innovation, promoting creativity in personnel, changes in chemical industry, chemical innovation, and the SCI award.

Notes 48

Index 49

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and has presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was the foundation’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

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