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Keith R. McKennon

Keith R. McKennon

Dow Historical Collection, CHF Collections

  • Born: December 25, 1933, Condon, Oregon

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0142
Interview Date: March 30, 1995
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 34
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

Keith McKennon begins this interview by discussing the origins of his interest in research and chemistry and the impact of growing up in Pendleton, Oregon, and attending Oregon State University. He then describes his early career at Dow Chemical Company and his decision to leave Dow for a sales position with Shell Chemical Company. Next, McKennon explains the process development and sales work he undertook upon his return to Dow and the research management strategies he employed as he later moved through Dow's management ranks. In recalling his decision to change career directions and take a position as a Director of Government Relations and Public Issues, McKennon views external influences on the chemical industry and the impact of environmental activism. He examineshis relationship with Paul Oreffice, the change from Zoltan Merszei to Oreffice, and his own role on the board of directors. Next, McKennon describes his second major career turn—dealing with public concern about dioxin in Agent Orange, and later, at Dow Corning, with the silicon implant affair. Finally, he ends the interview by reflecting on the chemical industry, its future, and the need for quality research management.


1955 B.S., Agricultural Chemistry, Oregon State University

  Professional Experience

Dow Chemical Company

1955 - 1956 Research Chemist, Special Assignments Program

Dow Chemical Company

1956 - 1961 Research Chemist, Pusher Project, Western Division

Shell Chemical Company

1961 - 1962 Salesman, San Francisco

Dow Chemical Company

1962 - 1967 Sales and Development, Pusher Project

Dow Chemical Company

1967 - 1968 Field Sales Manager, Secondary Oil Recovery Department (Houston)

Dow Chemical Company

1968 - 1969 R&D Director, Secondary Oil Recovery Department (Walnut Creek)

Dow Chemical Company

1969 Development Manager, Process Chemicals (Midland)

Dow Chemical Company

1971 - 1971 Business Manager, Environmental Control Systems

Dow Chemical Company

1971 - 1974 Business Manager, Highway Products

Dow Chemical Company

1974 - 1976 Business Manager, Construction Materials/Styrofoam

Dow Chemical Company

1976 - 1978 Director of Government Relations and Public Issues, Plastics Department

Dow Chemical Company

1978 - 1978 Director of Public Affairs, Dow USA

Dow Chemical Company

1978 - 1985 Director of Public Affairs, Dow

Dow Chemical Company

1978 - 1990 Member, Management Committee, Dow USA

Dow Chemical Company

1980 - 1983 Vice President, Dow

Dow Chemical Company

1983 - 1992 Member, Board of Directors, Dow

Dow Chemical Company

1983 - 1983 Group Vice President, Product Department Management, Dow USA

Dow Chemical Company

1983 - 1987 Group Vice President, Dow

Dow Chemical Company

1985 - 1987 Director, Research and Development, Dow

Dow Chemical Company

1987 - 1990 President, Dow USA

Dow Chemical Company

1990 - 1992 Executive Vice President for Technology

Dow Corning Corporation

1992 - 1993 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer


1991 Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary Clubs
1992 Distinguished Citizen Award, Boy Scouts of America
1994 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Education 1

Influence of family background and growing up in Condon and Pendleton, Oregon. Oregon State University. Linus Pauling's legacy. Summer research at OSU Agricultural Experiment Station. Interests in chemistry and research.

Early Career at Dow 6

Training in Special Assignments Program. Supervisors and work environment. Interests in development and sales. Leaving Dow for sales position at Shell.

Development and Management at Dow 11

Returning to Dow in Technical Service & Development. Selling process and technology. Work in secondary oil recovery. Views on decision making and intracompany competition. Business management.

Government Relations and Public Issues 20

Dow and chemical industry reaction to the environmental movement. Government relations in the plastics department. Minnesota milk container ban. Relationship with Paul Oreffice. Dow USA. Public and internal perceptions of Dow.

Late Career Changes at Dow 26

Influence on Board of Directors. Agent Orange and Times Beach. Dow Corning and silicon implants affair. Relationship with media.

Views of Industry 30

Future of chemical innovation. Research budgeting. Value of and need for research managers.

  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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