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Witco Corporation

Witco Corporation

One American Lane
Greenwich, Connecticut 06831-2559
U.S.A.
(203) 552-2000
Fax: (203) 552-2010

Public Company
Incorporated:
1920 as Wishnick-Tumpeer Chemical Company
Employees: 8,053
Sales: $1.98 billion (1995)
Stock Exchanges: New York Frankfurt
SICs: 2819 Industrial Inorganic Chemicals, Not Elsewhere Classified; 2842 Specialty Cleaning, Polishing & Sanitation Preparations; 2851 Paints, Varnishes, Lacquers, Enamels & Allied Products; 2869 Industrial Organic Chemicals, Not Elsewhere Classified; 2911 Petroleum Refining; 2992 Lubricating Oils & Greases; 5169 Chemicals & Allied Products, Not Elsewhere Classified

Witco Corporation is one of the worlds leading manufacturers of specialty chemicals. In the mid-1990s, more than 75 percent of the companys revenues came from its specialty chemicals operations, a significant shift from the much more diversified Witco of the 1970s and 1980s. The company still manufacturers specialty petroleum products, but announced in late 1995 that it would divest its lubricants business. In the 1990s, Witco not only committed to a future as a specialty chemicals company but also expanded internationally, deriving about one-third of its revenues from outside the United States.

Company Roots and Founding

The company was founded as Wishnick-Tumpeer Chemical Company by Robert I. Wishnick in association with the brothers Julius and David Tumpeer. Wishnick was president, owning 51 percent of the companys shares, and was chairman emeritus of Witco until his death in 1980. It was Wishnick who shaped the companys growth and direction for over half its life. His two original partners, who together owned only 20 percent of the companys shares, sold their interest shortly after World War II.

Born in Koltchina, Russia, in 1892, Robert Wishnick came to the United States to join his father and oldest brother in 1896. At age seven he lost his right arm at the elbow after breaking it badly in a fall. This childhood accident seems only to have hardened Wishnicks determination to make something of himself. He put himself through school, earning one of the first degrees in chemical engineering from the Armour Institute of Technology, now the Illinois Institute of Technology. Then, employed days as a chemist, he worked toward a law degree, which he received in 1917 from Kent College of Law.

His first job with the American Magnesium Products Company brought near disaster to his employers, but ironically foretold the successful business strategy Wishnick would follow to bring Witco to its present position in the chemical industry. His company sold a floor wax which complemented its product line of magnasite floor materials. Wishnick, however, thought that the company should produce its own floor wax, rather than reselling floor wax originally purchased elsewhere. He had his own mixture of wax and turpentine on a burner when the telephone rang and drew him away. In his absence, the mixture boiled over and set the entire factory on fire, burning it to the ground. This may not have been the most auspicious of beginnings, but it demonstrated clearly Wishnicks drive for independence. From that time Wishnick continually strived to push Witco to self-sufficiency through manufacturing its own products.

Early History

In 1920 after working as a sales representative with A. Dager & Company for two years, Wishnick, with Julius Tumpeer, set up Wishnick-Tumpeer as a chemical distributing concern on East Illinois Street in Chicago. The companys largest market was in carbon black and various other coloring agents needed by Chicagos vigorous printing industry. Before the company was a year old, however, a recession set in and sales declined considerably. Wishnick responded by cutting costs wherever possible. He reduced his own salary, cut the companys profit margin then worked to increase volume. These measures have been consistently successful for Witco and have been used to great effect whenever the company suffered from changes in the market. It also helped the company record a profit during its first year, despite the recession.

In 1922 the company was able to buy a 20 percent interest in a carbon black plant in Swartz, Louisiana. Witco then marketed the product on a commission basis in its own area. In 1923 Wishnick felt it was time to expand further and asked Julius Tumpeer to head the companys first New York office, though Wishnick later replaced him.

Also in 1924, Wishnick-Tumpeer purchased its first manufacturing concern, Pioneer Asphalt Company in Lawrenceville, Illinois. By 1926 so much of the companys business was in asphalt products that the board elected to drop Chemical from the company name, making the new name simply Wishnick-Tumpeer Incorporated. The steady growth that had marked the company from its beginnings continued through the 1920s until the crash of 1929.

Once again, Wishnick and his company implemented cost-cutting measures. Wishnick reduced wages, salaries and, of course, margins. This strategy worked again and the company managed to turn a profit in each year of the 1930s. During this time, cash flow was a severe problem, but Wishnick had a unique solution. Most of the companys cash flow problems were caused by its customers late bill payments. Each month Wishnick made a special trip to the accounts payable departments of the companys major accounts. There he left a small gift of candy or flowers with the secretaries and politely suggested that his bill be moved from the bottom of the pile to the top where it could be paid as soon as possible.

In 1933 the company acquired another carbon black plant which, after additional negotiations, led to Wishnicks formation of Continental Carbon Company in association with Continental Oil Company and Shamrock Oil and Gas Company. These two other concerns supplied the needed natural gas for carbon black production and Wishnick-Tumpeer became the exclusive sales agents for the new company.

In 1935 Witcos first overseas operation was created in Britain: the company acquired an interest in Harold A. Wilson & Company, a supplier of pigments to the United States. Eventually, the entire company was bought by Wishnick. This effort was only the beginning of what are today extensive overseas holdings.

The companys last important move before World War II was to build its first chemical plant in Chicago to produce industrial chemicals and asphalt products. The war brought large amounts of business for Wishnick-Tumpeer, but it also led to problems of shortages and rationing. Most of the companys business was still in distribution, and at times Wishnicks suppliers were unable to deliver what was needed.

Postwar Transition to Manufacturing

As the war was ending, annual sales were at approximately $7.8 million. The company was larger than ever before, but its future was uncertain. Many of the larger chemical companies Wishnick was accustomed to buying from were developing their own competing sales forces. In 1944 Wishnick changed the name of his company to Witco Chemical Incorporated. Then, in 1945, the board of the new company made official its plans to move as quickly as possible into manufacturing and to leave the distributing business.

Soon thereafter, the Chicago plant was expanded to include the production of metallic stearates, and then a number of new companies were acquired. Franks Chemical Products Inc. was purchased and then moved to less expensive quarters in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. A Los Angeles plant was bought from the India Paint and Varnish division of American Marietta, and new equipment was ordered for the plant to begin production of stearates. In 1954, by the time sales had grown to nearly $20 million, a British stearate plant was also purchased. This steady and extended expansion was not without difficulties, however. There were recurring operating problems in the Perth Amboy plant, some of which William Wishnick, the presidents son, was asked to help solve. There was also a major fire in the Chicago plant, and then in 1953 the first strike in Witcos history took place in the Lawrenceville plant.

Company Perspectives

Central to Witcos ongoing success is serving our customers well. We continually strive to bring our customers the very best products and attendant technical service in ways that truly satisfy each of them. Creative, open communication amongst our employees will always be focused on how we can best help our customers succeed in their businesses. Witcos long-term profitability depends on an increasingly global outlook and strong international expansion. Success in the global marketplace will be driven by ongoing reevaluation of our methods and processes, focused research and development, and an ever-present spirit of innovation. The fulfillment of this vision of Witco depends on the commitment of our valued employees and their commitment to the total quality management process that pervades our organization. Welcoming change, teamwork, and individual achievement will be hallmarks of our workplace environment where each employee can make a contribution. We will provide our employees with training and resources for career development, and will be committed to recognizing and rewarding significant contributions to achieving corporate objectives.

None of this weakened William Wishnicks resolve, however. In 1955 the decision was announced to end the companys distributing business altogether and to begin moving toward complete self-sufficiency. Witco sales were as high as $30 million, but over a ten-year period only 35 percent of that was from its own manufacturing operations. Some major acquisitions were on the horizon, but not until after a management reorganization. The Tumpeer brothers were no longer with the company (Julius had retired in 1947 and David had died in 1951). It was then, in 1955, that Robert Wishnick became chairman of the board, and Max Minnig, a long-time senior employee, became president. At that time, William Wishnick rose to the executive vice-presidency from his position as vice president and treasurer.

In keeping with its new corporate strategy, Witco spent the next two years making acquisitions and expanding operations. Sales rose to $40 million, 40 percent of which came from Witco manufacturing facilities. Then, in 1958 Witco went public and sold 150,000 shares of common stock. This expansion continued unabated through the mid-1960s. In 1960 the Sonneborn Chemical and Refining Company was acquired, bringing sales up to the $100 million mark. International expansion accelerated as well, with new acquisitions in Belgium, France, and Canada.

Expansion in the 1960s and 1970s

In 1964 further administrative changes led the way for even greater expansion. Robert Wishnick became chairman of the finance committee as well as managing director of international activities. Roberts son, William, succeeded him as chairman of the board, and Max Minnig became chief executive officer while maintaining his position as president. As chairman, William initiated the greatest growth period in Witcos history. He began with the 1966 acquisition of Argus Chemical Company at a price of $22 million. This provided Witco with a new plastics operation and one of its senior managers, Bill Setzler. The younger Wishnick also spent considerable sums on plant modernization and research and development. This tendency toward reinvestment of generated capital was to characterize the next two decades of Witco growth. In the period from 1966 to 1975 William Wishnick increased the companys sales by 250 percent. During this period he also assumed the duties of president and chief executive officer after Max Minnigs retirement in 1971.

In fulfillment of Robert Wishnicks dream, Witco became a firm devoted exclusively to manufacturing chemical products when its 1933 agreement with Continental Carbon Company expired. Witco kept its 20 percent interest in the company, but did not renew its licensing contract with the company. Witco now sold only Witco-manufactured products.

The recession in 1974 brought the traditional cost-cutting measures at Witco. The recession also brought a fourth-quarter drop of 50 percent in sales compared to the previous quarter. In addition, there was a sharp earnings drop in early 1975. By the end of 1975 matters had returned to normal, but there was still an overall drop in operating earnings of 23 percent. Despite this, Witco continued to expand, albeit more slowly. The Waverly Oil Works was purchased and a new $10 million hydrogenation plant was built in Pennsylvania.

The year 1975 witnessed additional administrative changes as highly talented managers from acquired companies rose to executive levels. Henry Sonneborn, brought in when his company was purchased in 1960, assumed the presidency and also became chief executive officer while William Setzler of the Argus division was appointed to the board of directors. William Wishnick returned to the position of chairman and his father Robert was appointed chairman emeritus, a position he held until his death in 1980.

Acquisitions and Divestments in the 1980s

The period from 1975 to 1986, half of it spent without the founders presence, was characterized by a somewhat haphazard approach to acquisitions. Under William Wishnicks guidance, the new administration made several purchases, such as the $38 million deal with Kraft in 1980 for Humko Chemical, a manufacturer of oleochemicals which are used in a variety of industries. But other acquisitions made during the period diversified Witco away from its core specialty chemicals and petroleum businesses. This was particularly true of the 1982 purchase of The Richardson Company for $62.6 million. Although the company was a market leader, Richardsons variety of productsincluding battery casings, conveyor belts, and offset plates for printinghad little in common with Witcos product lines.

At this same time, Witco and the U.S. chemical industry in general was hit hard by the double-dip recession of the early 1980s, which had been brought on by the oil shock of 1979. The companys numerous acquisitions of the 1970s and 1980s had created not only a much larger company but also a more unwieldy one with 18 operating divisions. Wishnick was forced to launch a divestment program to improve earnings. From 1981 through 1985, a variety of operations were sold, including a detergent business, urethane systems operations, Richardsons offset plates business, and Pioneer Asphalts Lawrenceville plant (which had been Witcos first manufacturing facility). Witco also sold off some of its oil reserves since petroleum prices were falling rapidly. Coupled with the divestments, Wishnick also began to invest more heavily in the companys existing operations, in particular upgrading aging facilities; by 1985, 75 percent of the $70 million used for reinvestment went to plant modernization.

Although the companys growth was slowed during this retrenchmentsales only increased to $1.35 billion in 1986 from the $1.2 billion posted in 1980net income of $65.2 million was a company record. Further, Witcos 1986 profit margin of 4.8 percent was the best in 18 years.

In October 1985 Chemical was again dropped from the company name, making the new company name Witco Corporation. At that time lubricants and specialty petroleum products made up 53 percent of the companys business, while specialty chemical products accounted for only 41 percent. The remaining six percent consisted of a variety of engineered materials for special applications.

In 1986 Thomas J. Bickett took over as president and chief executive officer from the retiring William J. Ashe, who had occupied the job since Henry Sonneborn retired. In 1978 Bickett had been asked to join Witco while working for an accounting firm contracted by Witco. His appointment to the position came after he had been with the company for 12 years, serving for much of that time on the board of directors. Although Bickett was considered a possible heir apparent to Wishnick, who was nearing retirement, Bickett left the company in 1989 reportedly because his and Wishnicks operational styles clashed. Although Denis Andreuzzi was named president and chief operating officer following Bicketts department, it was William R. Toller whom Wishnick recommended be elected chairman upon his retirement in October 1990. Toller had joined Witco in 1984 when the company acquired Continental Carbon from Conoco.

1990s and Beyond

Toller inherited a company that had struggled during the latter half of the 1980s. Net sales reached only $1.59 billion by 1989, an increase of just 9.7 percent over a five-year period. The company stayed away from major acquisitions during the period, while organic growth was difficult given Witcos mature markets.

Toller knew that major changes were needed in order to get the company growing again. Just two months after gaining the chairmanship, he asserted that the company had to globalize its operations. He also set a goal of reaching $2 billion in sales and a 16 percent return on equity by 1995. In 1991, Tollers first major undertaking was to commit the company to developing a state-of-the-art information system that would help the divisions managers run their operations more efficiently as well as provide upper management a better handle on the overall operations. The new system began operation in 1994.

Meanwhile, the shape of a future Witco began to take form as Toller slowly began to win over the companys other senior managers to his vision of a Witco dedicated to the specialty chemicals business. Although some managers recommended that the company remained diversified, Witcos largest acquisition to date propelled it into a new era. In 1992, Witco acquired the Industrial Chemicals and Natural Substances divisions of Germanys Schering AG for $440 million. The deal not only solidified the companys future in specialty chemicalsin 1993 chemicals accounted for 58 percent of Witcos salesit also significantly enhanced the firms global presence. A key symbol of the companys newfound international strength came in 1994 when Witco stock began to be traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Also in 1994, Witco moved its corporate headquarters from New York to Greenwich, Connecticut.

A major reorganization in 1993 did away with the divisional structure, replacing it with a structure that revolved around market-focused operating units. Initially the groups included Oleo/Surfactants, Polymer Additives, and Resins within the chemicals area; Petroleum Specialties and Lubricants within the petroleum area; and a Diversified Products Group which consisted of noncore businesses to be divested. During the mid-1990s, Witco divested itself of numerous nonchemical units and also announced in 1995 that it intended to divest its Lubricants Group as well, after which it would be almost exclusively in the specialty chemicals business (with a relatively small Petroleum Specialties Group).

Tollers goal of international expansion led to another major acquisition in 1995, which improved Witcos position in Europe but more importantly expanded the companys presence in the Pacific Rim and South America. Witco acquired OSi Specialties, Inc. in October 1995 in a $486 million deal. OSi was the global leader in silicone specialty chemicals and had significant operations in Asia, a region Witco was eager to expand in. Under Witco, OSi became one of the companys operating groups, the OSi Specialties Group.

In a few short years, Toller and his team had overseen a major transformation at Witco, one at least as important as the shift from distribution to manufacturing that occurred earlier in the century. Witco was now a major player in the international specialty chemicals industry and was more focused than ever before. In 1993, the company had already passed the $2 billion sales goal Toller had set when he took over the chairmanship, and even when the company began in 1995 to report its Lubricants Group as a discontinued operation, Witco fell just barely short of the $2 billion mark that year, thanks to its acquisition of OSi. Over the remainder of the 1990s, Witco was likely to concentrate on consolidating its 1990s acquisitions, making additional acquisitions to meet Tollers new goal of $5 billion in revenues by 2000, improving the companys earnings, and grooming a successor for the near-to-retirement Toller.

Principal Subsidiaries

Witco Canada Inc.; Witco S.A. (France); Witco Deutschland GmbH (Germany); Witco Ltd. (Israel; 60%); Witco Italianna Sri. (Italy); Witco B.V. (Netherlands); Witco España S.L. (Spain); Baxenden Chemicals Limited (U.K.; 53.5%).

Principal Operating Units

OSi Specialties Group; Polymer Additives Group; Asia/Pacific Group; Resins Group; Oleo/Surfactants Group; Petroleum Specialties Group; Lubricants Group.

Further Reading

An Acquiring Lifestyle, Forbes, July 19, 1993, p. 230.

Brown, Alan S., The Witco Story: Hard Work and Integrity, Lyme, Conn.: Greenwich Publishing Group, 1995.

Fink, Ronald, Pass the Rolaids: The Chemical Businesses Witco Has Acquired Will Sharpen Its Focus and Broaden Its ReachIf They Arent Too Much to Digest, Financial World, June 22, 1993, pp. 5455.

Freedman, William, Witco Absorbs OSi, Chemical Week, September 20, 1995, p. 8.

Plishner, Emily S., Passing the Baton: Bill Toller Has Transformed Witco into a Growing Specialty Chemical Company. Whos Next?, Financial World, November 21, 1995, pp. 5253.

Protzman, Ferdinand, Witcos Move in Europe Grows into Better-than-Expected Fit, New York Times, November 16, 1993, p. C6.

Stringer, Judy, Managing Change at Witco, Chemical Week, June 7, 1995, pp. 4445.

Warren, J. Robert, Witco Has Bold Asian Goals, Chemical Marketing Reporter, April 17, 1995, pp. 7, 20.

Wishnick, William, The Witco Story, New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1976.

updated by David E. Salamie

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Witco Corporation

Witco Corporation

520 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10022
U.S.A.
(212) 805 3800

Public Company
Incorporated:
May 6, 1920 as Wishnick-Tumpeer
Chemical Company
Employees: 8,009
Sales: $1.355 billion
Market value: $1.013 billion
Stock Index: New York

Witco Corporation, the highly successful manufacturer of specialty chemicals, petroleum products, and engineered materials, began in 1920 as a small Chicago area chemical distributor. Since that time, Witcos consistent expansion through both acquisitions and internal developments have made the company one of the strongest, if not the largest, chemical companies in the industry.

The company was founded as Wishnick-Tumpeer Chemical Company by Robert I. Wishnick in association with the brothers Julius and David Tumpeer. Wishnick was president, owning 51% of the companys shares, and was Chairman Emeritus of Witco until his death in 1980. It was Wishnick who shaped the companys growth and direction for over half its life. His two original partners, who together owned only 20% of the companys shares, sold their interest shortly after World War II.

Born in Koltchina, Russia in 1892, Robert Wishnick came to the United States to join his father and oldest brother in 1896. At age seven he lost his right arm at the elbow after breaking it badly in a fall. This childhood accident seems only to have hardened Wishnicks determination to make something of himself. He put himself through school, earning one of the first degrees in Chemical Engineering from the Armour Institute of Technology, now the Illinois Institute of Technology. Then, employed days as a chemist, he worked towards a law degree, which he received in 1917 from Kent College of Law.

His first job with the American Magnesium Products Company brought near disaster to his employers, but ironically foretold the successful business strategy Wishnick would follow to bring Witco to its present position in the chemical industry. His company sold a floor wax which complemented its product line of magnasite floor materials. However, Wishnick thought that the company should produce its own floor wax, rather than reselling floor wax originally purchased elswhere. He had his own mixture of wax and turpentine on a burner when the telephone rang and drew him away. In his absence, the mixture boiled over and set the entire factory on fire, burning it to the ground. This may not have been the most auspicious of beginnings, but it demonstrated clearly Wishnicks drive for independence. From that time Wishnick continually strived to push Witco to self-sufficiency through manufacturing its own products.

In 1920 after working as a sales representative with A. Dager & Company for two years, Wishnick, with Julius Tumpeer, set up Wishnick-Tumpeer as a chemical distributing concern on East Illinois street in Chicago. The companys largest market was in carbon black and various other coloring agents needed by Chicagos vigorous printing industry. Before the company was a year old, however, a recession set in and sales declined considerably. Wishnick responded by cutting costs wherever possible. He reduced his own salary, cut the companys profit margin then worked to increase volume. These measures have been consistently successful for Witco and have been used to great effect whenever the company suffered from changes in the market. It also helped the company record a profit during its first year, despite the recession.

In 1922 the company was able to buy a 20% interest in a carbon black plant in Swartz, Louisiana. Witco then marketed the product on a commission basis in its own area. In 1923 Wishnick felt it was time to expand further and asked Julius Tumpeer to head the companys first New York office, though Wishnick later replaced him.

Also in 1924, Wishnick-Tumpeer purchased its first manufacturing concern, Pioneer Asphalt Company in Lawrenceville, Illinois. By 1926 so much of the companys business was in asphalt products that the board elected to drop Chemical from the company name, making the new name simply Wishnick-Tumpeer Incorporated. The steady growth which had marked the company from its beginnings continued through the 1920s until the crash of 1929.

Once again, Wishnick and his company implemented cost cutting measures. Wishnick reduced wages, salaries and, of course, margins. This strategy worked again and the company managed to turn a profit in each year of the 1930s. During this time, cash flow was a severe problem, but Wishnick had a unique solution. Most of the companys cash flow problems were caused by its customers late bill payments. Each month Wishnick made a special trip to the accounts payable departments of the companys major accounts. There he left a small gift of candy or flowers with the secretaries and politely suggested that his bill be moved from the bottom of the pile to the top where it could be paid as soon as possible.

In 1933 the company acquired another carbon black plant which, after additional negotiations, led to Wishnicks formation of Continental Carbon Company in association with Continental Oil Company and Shamrock Oil and Gas Company. These two other concerns supplied the needed natural gas for carbon black production and Wishnick-Tumpeer became the exclusive sales agents for the new company.

In 1935 Witcos first overseas operation was created in Britain: the company acquired an interest in Harold A. Wilson & Company, a supplier of pigments to the United States. Eventually, the entire company was bought by Wishnick. This effort was only the beginning of what are today extensive overseas holdings. Witco now has 12 wholly owned foreign manufacturing operations and part interest in 17 others.

The companys last important move before World War II was to build its first chemical plant in Chicago to produce industrial chemicals and asphalt products. The war brought large amounts of business for Wishnick-Tumpeer. However, it also led to problems of shortages and rationing. Most of the companys business was still in distribution, and at times Wishnicks suppliers were unable to deliver what was needed.

As the war was ending, annual sales were at approximately $7.8 million. The company was larger than ever before, but its future was uncertain. Many of the larger chemical companies Wishnick was accustomed to buying from were developing their own competing sales forces. In 1944 Wishnick changed the name of his company to Witco Chemical Incorporated. Then, in 1945, the board of the new company made official its plans to move as quickly as possible into manufacturing and to leave the distributing business.

Soon thereafter, the Chicago plant was expanded to include the production of metallic stearates, and then a number of new companies were acquired. Franks Chemical Products Inc. was purchased and then moved to less expensive quarters in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. A Los Angeles plant was bought from the India Paint and Varnish division of American Marietta, and new equipment was ordered for the plant to begin production of stearates. In 1954, by the time sales had grown to nearly $20 million, a British stearate plant was also purchased. This steady and extended expansion was not without difficulties, however. There were recurring operating problems in the Perth Amboy plant, some of which William Wishnick, the Presidents son, was asked to help solve. There was also a major fire in the Chicago plant, and then in 1953 the first strike in Witcos history took place in the Lawrenceville plant.

None of this weakened William Wishnicks resolve, however. In 1955 the decision was announced to end the companys distributing business altogether and to begin moving toward complete self-sufficiency. Witco sales were as high as $30 million, but over a ten year period only 35% of that was from its own manufacturing operations. Some major acquisitions were on the horizon, but not until after a management reorganisation. The Tumpeer brothers were no longer with the company (Julius had retired in 1947 and David had died in 1951). It was then, in 1955, that Robert Wishnick became chairman of the board, and Max Minnig, a long-time senior employee, became president. At that time, William Wishnick rose to the executive vice presidency from his position as vice president and treasurer.

In keeping with its new corporate strategy, Witco spent the next two years making acquisitions and expanding operations. Sales rose to $40 million, 40% of which came from Witco manufacturing facilities. Then, in 1958 Witco went public and sold 150,000 shares of common stock. This expansion continued unabated through the mid1960s. In 1960 the Sonneborn Chemical and Refinery Company was acquired, bringing sales up to the $100 million mark. International expansion was accelerated as well, with new acquisitions in Belgium, France, and Canada.

In 1964 further administrative changes led the way for even greater expansion. Robert Wishnick became chairman of the finance committee as well as managing director of international activities. Roberts son, William, succeeded him as chairman of the board, and Max Minnig became chief executive officer while maintaining his position as president. As chairman, William initiated the greatest growth period in Witcos history. He began with the 1966 acquisition of Argus Chemical Company at a price of $22 million. This provided Witco with a new plastics operation and one of its senior managers, Bill Setzler. The younger Wishnick also spent considerable sums on plant modernization and research and development. This tendency toward reinvestment of generated capital was to characterize the next two decades of Witco growth. In the period from 1966 to 1975 William Wishnick increased the companys sales by 250%. During this period he also assumed the duties of president and chief executive officer after Max Minnigs retirement in 1971.

In fulfillment of Robert Wishnicks dream, Witco became a firm devoted exclusively to manufacturing chemical products when its 1933 agreement with Continental Carbon Company expired. Witco kept its 20% interest in the company, but did not renew its licensing contract with the company. Witco now sold only Witcomanufactured products.

The recession in 1974 brought the traditional costcutting measures at Witco. The recession also brought a fourth-quarter drop of 50% in sales compared to the previous quarter. In addition, there was a sharp earnings drop in early 1975. By the end of 1975 matters had returned to normal, but there was still an overall drop in operating earnings of 23%. Despite this, Witco continued to expand, albeit more slowly. The Waverly Oil Works was purchased and a new $10 million hydrogenation plant was built in Pennsylvania.

1975 witnessed additional administrative changes as highly talented managers from acquired companies rose to executive levels. Henry Sonneborn, brought in when his company was purchased in 1960, assumed the presidency and also became chief executive officer while William Setzler of the Argus division was appointed to the board of directors. William Wishnick returned to the position of Chairman and his father Robert was appointed chairman emeritus, a position he held until his death in 1980.

The period from 1975 to 1986, half of it spent without the founders presence, was characterized by a marked drop in acquisitions for Witco. The new administration, led by William Wishnick, continued to emphasize expansion of existing operations, research and development, and modernization of equipment and methods. This strategy resulted in slow but steady growth, especially in the Argus division which expanded its operations and opened up new markets for its plastics. By 1985 75% of the $70 million used for reinvestment went to plant modernization.

In October of 1985 Chemical was again dropped from the company name, leaving it as Witco Incorporated. At that time specialty petroleum products made up 53% of the companys business, while specialty chemical products accounted for only 41%. The remaining 6% consisted of engineered materials for special applications.

In 1986 Thomas J. Bickett took over as president and chief executive officer from the retiring William J. Ashe, who had occupied the job since Henry Sonneborn retired. In 1978 Bickett had been asked to join Witco while working for an accounting firm contracted by Witco. His appointment to the position came after he had been with the company for 12 years, serving for much of that time on the board of directors.

The chemical market in the latter half of the 1980s is good for Witco. The company maintains a low profit margin but boasts one of the highest returns on stockholder equity in the business. William Wishnick has less and less to do with the direct management of Witco, but still maintains control over the direction of the company, even if he owns only 7.5% of the company shares. William feels that the future of Witco will be determined by its acquisition strategy. We are an operating companynot an investment company, he said. Anything we have a minority interest in is for sale. It remains to be seen if Witco will remain successful without a Wishnick directing the day-to-day operations of the company. However, if Thomas Bickett can continue the Wishnicks traditional emphasis on expansion and frugality, Witcos prospects for the future are very good.

Principal Subsidiaries

Witco Canada Inc.; Baxenden Chemical Co., Ltd. (53 1/2%); Witco SA; Witco Ltd. (60%); Argus Quimica Mexicana SA de CV; Witco BV; Jonk BV; Surpass Chemicals Ltd.; Witco Chemical Australia Pty. Ltd.; Continental Carbon Co.; Enenco, Inc.; Witco International Sales Corp.; Witco Investment Corp.; Witco Foreign Sales Corp.; Witco Nencorp, Inc.; Witco Oil & Gas Corp.

Further Reading

The Witco Story by William Wishnick, New York, Newcomen Society in North America, 1976.

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"Witco Corporation." International Directory of Company Histories. 1988. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Witco Corporation." International Directory of Company Histories. 1988. Encyclopedia.com. (September 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2840500155.html

"Witco Corporation." International Directory of Company Histories. 1988. Retrieved September 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2840500155.html

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