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Jeffrey M. Lipton

  • Born: July 5, 1942, Bronx, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0637
Interview Dates: August 4, 2009 and August 12, 2009
Location: Sewickley, Pennsylvania
Interviewer: Ron Reynolds
No. of pages: 149
Minutes: 342
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

Jeffrey M. Lipton was born and raised in Bronx, New York, the son of a Polish immigrant.  Although trained as an accountant, Lipton’s father could not find work in that field and took a position in his father’s (Lipton’s grandfather’s) grocery store along with, eventually, Lipton’s mother.  There were a number of formative educational experiences during Lipton’s childhood, including his time at PS-102 and his high school education at the Bronx High School of Science.  Competition at his high school, as well as, as he notes, the juxtaposition between his own working-class look and background and the largely “preppy” student body, shaped his educational experience.  He matriculated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he majored in chemical engineering and was active in school politics.  A job at Tidewater Oil Company during the summer after his junior year rejuvenated Lipton’s interest in his chemical engineering curriculum.  After his senior year, he sought out another summer job, and happened upon the DuPont Company color pigments plant in Newark, New Jersey.  Lipton took a position in scheduling, the first of dozens of positions in his career at DuPont.  Meanwhile, he began attending Harvard Business School, where he sought to build up his leadership skills and focused on marketing and the acquisition and management of new and small businesses.  

After receiving his MBA, Lipton remained in pigments at DuPont, moving to the pigments plant in Newport, Delaware.   After two invitations to join sales, he acquiesced, tackling his first job at the Wilmington, Delaware headquarters: creating a new use and business for tailings from a DuPont ilmenite mine in Florida.  After his success, the company called upon him for various other projects and roles, and at age twenty-nine Lipton was named business manager and head of marketing of color pigments.  With this new title, he prioritized sales of pigments, but was soon called to the purchasing department.  DuPont then acquired Conoco, a decision with which Lipton disagreed, though a decision that also allowed him to interact with then-CEO Irving Shapiro.  DuPont called on Lipton to take on further management positions, including director of the development division, head of the photo products division, COO of New England Nuclear (a DuPont acquisition), and manager of the polymers division.  In this section of the interview, Lipton discussed his various projects in each of the aforementioned areas, as well as the international nature of the polymer business and his contact with former DuPont CEO Ed Woolard. Finally, Lipton moved to the planning division, where, in the search for methods of cost reduction, he developed and utilized cash flow cycle time to analyze the company.  He concluded his discussion on his lengthy career at DuPont by reflecting on the evolution of the company, the company’s complexity, and the way in which his business school training affected his tenure at DuPont.  

Lipton detailed his transition from DuPont to Nova Chemicals Corporation, which he joined as a CFO.  He explained his recruitment to the company, as well as the company’s history, including the spinoff of Nova Chemicals, and his involvement in Nova’s styrene and polystyrene businesses. Lipton steered the company through the commodity chemicals industry difficulties of 2001, and, after noting the various consolidation and joint venture efforts along the way, spoke about the 2008 and 2009 industry issues, including the loss of financial system support and the initial talks with Abu Dhabi firm IPIC.  The interview concluded with Lipton talking about some broader industry themes including: how the chemical commodity industry might evolve; the possibilities for United States chemical companies and shale gas; and the role good board members, who are increasingly difficult to recruit, play in major companies in the industry; and his own growth in management, as well as individuals who have influenced him during his career.   

  Education

1963 B.S., Chemical Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
1965 MBA Harvard Business School

  Professional Experience

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1965 - 1966

Foreman, Pigments Plant, Newark, Delaware

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1966 - 1967

Area Supervisor and Plant Superintendant, Pigments Plant,
Newport, Delaware

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1968 - 1993

Various positions, Wilmington, Delaware
    Manager, Mineral Sands
    Business Manager, Color Pigments
    Purchasing Manager (3 positions)
    Director of Development Division
    General Director, X-ray Film and Printing Films
Chief Operating Officer, New England Nuclear, Boston,
Massachusetts
Vice President and General Manager, Polymers,Wilmington,
Delaware

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

1993

Vice President, Corporate Planning, M&A, and Cost Reduction,
Wilmington, Delaware

NOVA Corporation

1994

Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President, Calgary,
Alberta, Canada

NOVA Corporation

1995 - 1998

President and Chief Operating Officer

NOVA Chemicals Corporation

1998 - 2009

Chief Executive Officer

  Honors

2007

International Palladium Medal, Société de Chimie Industrielle
(American Section)

2008

Tree of Life Award, Jewish National Fund

2009

Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and early education 1

Lipton’s youth in a Bronx, working-class neighborhood.  Schooling at PS-102. The atmosphere and students at Bronx High School of Science. Working-class identity. 

Higher education and early work experience 15

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: chemical engineering curriculum, school politics, and leadership. Summer job at Tidewater Oil Company.

Harvard Business School and early years at DuPont 23

Takes a position at the DuPont pigments plant in Newark, Delaware.  The decision to attend business school.  DuPont special assignment to upgrade warehousing and distribution system. Turns down an invitation to work in sales. Moves to pigments plant in Newport, Delaware.

Career at DuPont: pigments and new businesses 31

Accepts second invitation to join sales in Wilmington, Delaware. Starts successful new business based on tailings of ilmenite mine in Florida.  Called upon again to determine how to get rid of excess ferric chloride from New Jersey plants; establishes a solution to sell excess to water treatment plants, where it is used as agglomerate. At age twenty-nine is named the business manager and the head of marketing for color pigments.  Prioritizes sales of pigments. Effects of 1979-1980 recession on business. Moves to purchasing.  Interactions with Irving Shapiro.

Career at DuPont: development and photo products 47

DuPont’s acquisition of Conoco. Becomes director of development division.  Tyvek, Viaflo, and lessons about falling in love with new technology.  The photo products department and the pricing problem of silver.  The x-ray film sales force.  Lipton’s time as COO of New England Nuclear, acquired by DuPont.

Career at DuPont: polymers and beyond 61

Developing public speaking skills.  Transition to heading the polymers division, an international business.  Interactions with and reflections on Ed Woolard.  The deterioration of the polymers business.  Lipton’s move to planning and his development of cash flow cycle time.  The process of negotiating a deal between ICI and DuPont.  Lipton’s thoughts on DuPont’s evolution. The complexity of DuPont.  The role of the “business school guy” at DuPont.

Nova Chemicals Corporation: through 1999 76

Interactions with Ted Newell and Nick Pappas lead to recruitment for Nova as CFO.  A brief history of Nova.  The process of leaving DuPont. The Methanex Corporation and the spinoff of Nova Chemicals.  The polystyrene and styrene businesses at Nova.

Nova Chemicals Corporation: the 2000s 98

Nova’s management philosophy. Surviving 2001, a difficult year for commodity chemicals.  Safety at Nova.  Consolidation and joint ventures. 2008 and 2009 and the loss of financial system support.  The initial talks with Abu Dhabi firm International Petroleum Investment Co. (IPIC).

Final Thoughts 114

Differentiation in the chemical commodity business.  Future evolution of the chemical commodity business from a stock market perspective. The possibilities for United States chemical companies and shale gas.  The role of board members of chemical companies and difficulties in recruiting good board members. What Lipton has learned about managing technology.  Thoughts on influential people in Lipton’s career.

Appendix: Photographs from the 2009 Society of Chemical Industry Awards dinner 132

Index 134

  About the Interviewers

Ron Reynolds

Ron Reynolds is currently the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at CHF. Before joining the organization, he spent a long career in the refining and chemical industry with a broad range of responsibilities that included research, manufacturing, logistics, and business development. He holds a B.S. in chemical engineering from Lafayette College, an M.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and an M.S. in environmental engineering from Drexel University. His current research focuses on how policy decisions are made in areas of complex and evolving technological systems, such as energy and climate change.

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