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Whitson Sadler

  • Born: November 30, 1940, Bristol, Tennessee

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0347
Interview Date: June 19, 2006
Location: Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Interviewers: Arthur Daemmrich and Jeffrey McDaniel
No. of pages: 52
Sponsor: Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Chemical Industry

  Abstract of Interview

Whitson Sadler begins his interview with a description of his family history, which he traces back to an English missionary in the 1600s. Born in Bristol, Tennessee, Sadler was the middle son of two formally trained schoolteachers. As a young boy, Sadler's father accepted a position as a ticket agent at American Airlines, which caused the family move several times during Sadler's formative years. Sadler attended high school in Long Island, followed by a year of post-graduate prep school in New Hampshire at The New Hampton School. After this post-graduate year, Sadler enrolled at the Sewanee, the University of the South where he excelled in mathematics; this eventually led him to pursue a degree in economics. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Sadler enlisted in the U.S. Navy, spending most of his four-year service in Washington, D.C. and Norfolk, Virginia.

Following his time in the Navy, Sadler attended Harvard Business School. Upon graduating, Sadler was offered a position at Lazard Frères & Co., where he worked first as an associate and then as a general partner, for seven years. It was during this time that Sadler first began to work with Solvay S.A., which was expanding its business to the United States. After working on the Soltex Polymer Corporation board, Sadler became more familiar with the company and in 1977, left Lazard Frères & Co. to become vice chairman and, after a year, CEO of Solvay America, Inc. Over the next two decades, Sadler worked to expand the depth and breadth of Solvay's various product lines, and became an important member of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, helping to develop the Responsible Care® program. Solvay America prospered under his leadership, reaching over 25 percent of Solvay's overall sales by the time of his retirement. Sadler concludes his interview with a discussion of current politics and his activities since retirement.


1963 B.S., Economics, Sewanee: University of the South
1969 M.B.A. Harvard University

  Professional Experience

Lazard Frères & Co.

1970 - 1974 Associate

Lazard Frères & Co.

1975 - 1977 General Partner

Solvay America, Inc.

1977 Vice Chairman

Solvay America, Inc.

1978 - 2001 Chief Executive Officer

Houston Museum of Natural Science

1994 - 1996 Member, Board of Trustees

Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

1996 - 1997 Chairman

Southdown, Inc.

1996 - 2000 Member, Board of Directors

Chemical Manufacturers Association

2000 - 2001 Chairman

Belden, Inc.

2000 - 2004 Member, Board of Directors

Solvay S.A.

2001 - Present Member, Board of Directors


1988 Chevalier, Order of King Leopold, Belgium
2003 Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

The Sadler family history. Father's career at American Airlines. Living with dyslexia. High school in Long Island. Post-graduate year at the New Hampton School. Attending Sewanee, the University of the South as an economics major.

Naval Career and Harvard Business School 5

Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. In Washington, D.C. as part of computer support group. Working in Honolulu. Air Intelligence School in Norfolk. Celebration at Breezy Point Officers' Club. Meeting future wife. Professor Walt Salmon and Dr. Christianson. Creating an acquisition analysis program with cohorts.

Lazard Frères & Co. 9

Working for Felix Rohatyn. First attempt to create a deal, between O. M. Scott and Toro. Frank Pizzitola and first dealings with Solvay S.A. Soltex Polymer Corporation. Claude Loutrel. Solvay's acquisition of Celanese Corporation's high-density polyethylene business. Jacques Solvay's influence.

Solvay America, Inc. 15

Moving family to Texas. Becoming chief executive officer of Solvay America. Corpus Christi ethylene cracker. Ray R. Irani. Acquiring Tenneco Soda Ash Company. The original Solvay plant. Solvay's corporate culture. Moving into human pharmaceuticals. The Responsible Care® program. Benefits of the Solvay family's involvement in company.

The Future of Solvay 30

Growing sales percentage contributed to United States. Potential growth in specialty and high performance plastics. Solvay's expansion in to China and India. Pharmaceutical products pipeline. Work on American Plastics Council board and parallels to the American Chemistry Council. Future impact of Europe's REACH regulatory framework. Management challenges while at Solvay. Solvay's current leadership team.

Conclusion 38

Life after retirement. Various board commitments. Current relationship with Jacques Solvay and other industry friends. Attending the 2000 Republican convention in support of George W. Bush. The importance of educating people about the chemical industry. President George W. Bush. Current interests.

Notes 44

Index 45

  About the Interviewer

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.

Jeffrey McDaniel

Jeffrey McDaniel is the senior director of development for the New London Hospital in New London, New Hampshire. He spent several years at the Chemical Heritage Foundation as a major gifts officer, associate director, and assistant director. McDaniel holds an A.B. in religion from Dartmouth College and has completed post-baccalaureate studies at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), Villanova University, and the Community College of Philadelphia. He played an integral role in planning and executing the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Initiative.

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