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John W. Johnstone

John W. Johnstone

Detail of Image, CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

  • Born: November 19, 1932, Brooklyn, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0156
Interview Date: February 11, 1997
Location: Norwalk, Connecticut
Interviewer: James G. Traynham
No. of pages: 46
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

John W. Johnstone begins the interview with a description of his childhood days in the boroughs of New York City. While in high school, he was encouraged by John McManus to study chemistry. After graduating from Far Rockaway High School, Johnstone attended Hartwick College, receiving a B.A. in chemistry and physics in 1954. He sought a career in the petrochemicals industry. After interviewing with several companies, Johnstone's physics professor set up an interview for a sales assistantship with Oldbury Electrochemical Company. He began working there in 1954. When Hooker Chemical Company acquired Oldbury Electrochemical Company in 1957, Johnstone joined the staff of Hooker. Johnstone rose through the ranks at Hooker from a sales representative to Group Vice President in Niagara Falls. While employed by Hooker, he attended the Harvard Advanced Management Program. Occidental Petroleum acquired Hooker in the early 1970s, and in 1975, Johnstone made the difficult decision to join Airco, Inc. He served as president of their alloys division until 1979 when he left Airco, Inc. to join the Olin Corporation. While with Olin Corporation, Johnstone worked for successful re-engineering and expansion of the company. He developed the Olin Moral Rock and Responsible Care programs in order to address rising environmental concerns. Johnstone concludes his interview with a discussion of the future of research and development in the chemical industry, reflections on winning the 1996 Chemical Industry Medal, and thoughts on his family.


1954 B.A., Chemistry and Physics, Hartwick College
1970 Harvard University Advanced Management Program

  Professional Experience

Hooker Chemical Company

1954 - 1957 Sales Representative, Oldbury Electrochemical Company, New York, New York

Hooker Chemical Company

1957 - 1963 Sales Representative, Cincinnati, Ohio

Hooker Chemical Company

1963 - 1965 District Sales Manager, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hooker Chemical Company

1965 - 1968 Industry Marketing Manager, Niagara Falls, New York

Hooker Chemical Company

1968 - 1970 Manufacturing, Sales, and Marketing Manager, Tacoma, Washington

Hooker Chemical Company

1970 - 1971 Assistant General Manager, Electrochemicals Division, Niagara Falls, New York

Hooker Chemical Company

1971 - 1973 Vice President, Electrochemicals Division, Niagara Falls, New York

Hooker Chemical Company

1973 - 1975 Group Vice President, Niagara Falls, New York

Airco Inc.

1976 - 1979 President, Airco Alloys Division

Olin Corporation

1979 - 1980 Vice President and General Manager, Industrial Products; Senior Vice-President, Chemical Group

Olin Corporation

1980 - 1983 Corporate Vice President and President, Chemical Group

Olin Corporation

1983 - 1985 Executive Vice President

Olin Corporation

1985 - 1987 President

Olin Corporation

1988 - 1996 President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board


1990 Honorary D. Sc., Hartwick College
1995 Silver Beaver Award, Boy Scouts of America
1996 Winthrop-Sears Medal, Chemists' Club
1996 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Early Education 1

Growing up in New York. Boy Scouts. High school years. Playing basketball. Influence of John McManus in education.

College Education and Early Career 5

B.A. in chemistry and physics. Looking for a job in petrochemical industry. Sales assistantship at Oldbury Electrochemical Company. Acquisition of Oldbury by Hooker Chemical Company.

Career Advancement 8

District manager at Hooker. Promoted to manufacturing, sales and marketing manager and then assistant division manager. Attending Harvard Advanced Management Program.

Airco 14

Leaving Hooker Chemical Company for Airco Inc. Customer relations. President of alloys division. Traveling. Love Canal. Decision to leave Airco.

Olin 19

President of industrial chemicals. Corporate shift from agriculture to chemicals. Research and development. Electronics. Executive Vice-President. Company restructuring.

Service and Environmental Concern 26

Olin Moral Rock. Responsible Care. Chairman of Chemical Manufacturers Association. Environmental issues.

Management in a Global Business 31

Downsizing. Chlor-alkali and biocides. Research and development. Chemical innovation. Winning Chemical Industry Medal. Leadership. Research Corporation. Hartwick College board.

Final Thoughts 38

Reflections on career and family.

Index 41

  About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a Ph.D. 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.

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