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Harold A. Sorgenti

Harold Sorgenti

CHF Collections, Photograph by Douglas Lockard

  • Born: May 28, 1934, New York, New York
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  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0170
Interview Dates: May 12, 1998 and March 15, 1999 and June 10, 1999 and January 10, 2003
Location: Haverford, Pennsylvania
Interviewer: Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 181
Sponsor: Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Harold Sorgenti begins the interview by discussing his family background and childhood. He attended public school in Brooklyn, New York and graduated City College with a B.S. in chemical engineering. During his early life, Sorgenti faced the harshness of blatant prejudice aimed at his Italian heritage. He was able to find a job after college at Battelle Memorial Institute, with the help of a government quota for minorities. While working in research there, Sorgenti received his masters in chemical engineering from Ohio State University. After four years at Battelle, Sorgenti left to work in research for Atlantic Richfield Oil Corporation (ARCO). Sorgenti had a highly productive research career and invented several production processes, such as making benzene from toluene by hydrodealkylation. Because of his exemplary managerial skills and ability to take risks, Sorgenti was promoted first to director of development and then to head to research and engineering at ARCO. Eventually, he became the president of ARCO Chemical, a subdivision of ARCO. Sorgenti urged the company's CEO, Robert Anderson, to buy control of Oxirane, which Sorgenti later built in to a highly successful company. From the beginning of his presidency in 1979, to his retirement in 1991, Sorgenti increased ARCO's net worth by two billion dollars. Sorgenti has always believed that a manager's most important job was to provide safety for his employees. He felt that shareholders were preventing him from accomplishing that task at ARCO, so he resigned and then co-founded the Freedom Chemical Company. There, Sorgenti helped organize many transactions, including one with the Kalama Chemical Company. When Freedom's investment partner, JLL, decided to sell the company to B.F. Goodrich, Sorgenti founded a new company named, Sorgenti Investment Partners. Throughout his career, Sorgenti has joined many corporate boards, and worked hard to make the selection of new executives and board members an open process. Sorgenti ends the interview by reflecting on his philanthropic involvements and family life.


1956 B.S., Chemical Engineering, City College of New York
1959 M.S., Chemical Engineering, Ohio State University

  Professional Experience

Battelle Memorial Institute

1955 - 1959 Research

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1959 - 1961 Assistant Development Engineer

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1961 - 1968 Development Engineer

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1968 - 1972 Manager of Process Development, Harvey, Illinois

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1972 - 1975 Manager of Evaluation, Planning Coordination and Supply Department, Los Angeles, California

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1975 - 1976 Vice President, Research and Engineering, Products Division, Los Angeles, California

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1976 - 1979 Senior Vice President, Chemical Department, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1979 - 1987 President

Atlantic Refining Company (ARCO)

1987 - 1991 President and Chief Executive Officer

Freedom Chemical Company

1991 - 1996 Co-Founder and Chairman

Sorgenti Investment Partners

1996 Founder and General Partner


1981 Leadership Award, Junior Achievement of Delaware Valley
1981 Business and Industry Award, Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, Inc.
1981 Achievement Award, National Italian American Foundation
1982 Industrialist of the Year Award, Society of Industrial Realtors
1982 Beta Gamma Sigma Honoree
1982 Honorary Doctor of Law Degree, Villanova University
1982 Civic Achievement Award, American Jewish Committee Human Relations
1983 Benjamin G. Lamme Medal, Ohio State University, College of Engineering
1983 Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Saint Joseph's University
1983 Distinguished Service Award, Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, Inc. (OIC), Leon Sullivan, Founder
1984 Commendotore Order of Merit, Republic of Italy
1985 William Penn Award, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce
1985 Drum Major Award for Corporate Justice, Martin Luther King Association for Non-Violence
1991 Memorial Award, Chemical Market Research Association
1991 Philip H. Ward Medal, Franklin Institute
1991 Honor Award, Commercial Development Association
1991 Business Leader of the Year Award, Drexel University
1991 Campaign for Citizen Power Award, League of Women Voters
1992 "Touching Lives" Award, Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Philadelphia Area
1992 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Ohio State University

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family Background and Education 1

Birth during the Great Depression. Grandparents' emigration from Italy. Education. Summer job as Good Humor man. Uncle's electroplating business.

Social Injustice 9

Private school quotas. Parents' belief in equality. Attending City College of New York. Businesses, minorities, and hiring practices. Blatant prejudice. Effects of World War II.

Career at Battelle Memorial Institute 15

Race as primary reason for hire. Move to Ohio. Creative environment. Becoming an expert in nitric acid production. Masters at Ohio State University.

Career at Atlantic Richfield Oil Corporation (ARCO) 21

Move to Philadelphia. Research. Prejudiced environment. Robert Anderson. Process for soft detergents. Process to produce benzene by hydrodealkylation. Director of development at Sinclair Laboratories. Promotion to head of research and engineering at ARCO.

ARCO Chemical 30

Bill Keishnick. Bob Bent. Dick Bressler. Becoming president of ARCO Chemical. Reasons for quick promotions. Pacemaker business. Centennial Hydrocarbon joint venture. Oxirane and Halcon International. Cyril C. Baldwin. MTBE and gasoline. Herbert Denenberg. Taking ARCO Chemical global. Not in full control over company. Promoting diversity. Plant explosion. Lodwrick Cook. Senior vice president of manufacturing position. Leaving ARCO Chemical. Bill Flaherty.

Career at Freedom Chemical Company 64

Formation of Freedom Chemical. Finding investment partners. Treating employees well. Fred Rullo. Gordon Cain. Going public. Equity and returns. Finding good deals and contacts. Acquisitions. Philip Kamins. Hilton-Davis Company. Kalama Chemical Company. Kick-backs and pay-offs. Joseph Littlejohn and Levy investment firm and selling Freedom Chemical Company. Management's obligations to employees.

Philanthropy 92

The Opportunities Industrial Center. Reverend Sullivan. Summer Job Program. Philadelphia Orchestra board. Chemical Manufacturers Association. Operation Dialogue.

Corporate Boards 100

Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company. CoreStates Financial Corporation. Morey Dorrance. O'Brien Energy Systems. Frank O'Brien. Crown Cork and Seal. The Pennsylvania Academy. Henry McNeil. University of the Arts. Changing prejudiced views. Chamber of Commerce. W. Thatcher Longstreth.

Career at Sorgenti Investment Partners 112

Raising a fund. Foamex. Marshall Cogan. Morgan Stanley Capital Partners. Cartel activity. Propylene oxide. Conditions for profitability. Chinese successes.

Family Life 127

Meeting and marrying Ann Sorgenti. Erlen Neighbors Association. Daughters Beth and Lucy. Wynn Hannock business. Breast Cancer. Robert's death. Bianca Ottone and family history.

Notes 139

Appendix 140

The life of Harold A. Sorgenti presented through photographs.

Family Life 142

Corporate Life 151

Events & Awards 166

Religion 181

Index 185

  About the Interviewers

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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