E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company
Sales: $45 billion (1997)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: DD
SICs: 2911 Petroleum Refining; 2221 Broadwoven Fabric Mills—Manmade; 2819 Industrial Inorganic Chemicals, Not Elsewhere Classified; 2869 Industrial Organic Chemicals, Not Elsewhere Classified
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company is undoubtedly better known by consumers under the moniker DuPont, the oldest family name in American preindustrial wealth. Its reputation is synonymous with organic chemistry. Founded in 1802, the company began as a partnership in gunpowder and explosives. DuPont grew from a family business to a multinational conglomerate through the acquisition of competing companies and through the diversification of product lines. As of 1998 the company operated 30 petroleum refineries and natural gas processing plants through its Conoco subsidiary and 135 manufacturing and processing facilities throughout the world that produced chemicals, synthetic fibers, polymers, and biotech products for a number of different industries.
Founder Éleuthère Irenée du Pont de Nemours was born to French nobility. He studied with the chemist in charge of manufacturing the French government’s gunpowder, Antoinne LaVoisier. The years of turmoil preceding the French Revolution caused him to immigrate to the United States in 1797. He chose to build his production facilities on a site on the Delaware’s Brandy wine River, which was central to all of the states at the time and provided sufficient water power to run the mills. Du Pont rapidly established a reputation for superior gunpowder. He died in 1834, leaving his sons Alfred and Henry to buy out French financiers and continue the business. His sons expanded the company’s product line into the manufacture of smokeless powder, dynamite, and nitroglycerine.
One century after its founding, the gunpowder and explosives combine faced dissolution when senior partner Eugene du Pont died at the age of 62, after having served 42 years. With no new leadership, the surviving partners decided to sell the company to the highest bidder. Alfred I. du Pont, a distant relative of the founder, purchased the firm with the aid of his cousins. Alfred was intent on saving the family business. Although he had grown up working in gunpowder yards, he lacked the organizational skills needed to run the firm. His cousins Pierre S. du Pont and Thomas Coleman possessed the financial acumen and led the family company to unprecedented success. The purchase price was set at $12 million, but secret investigations by the cousins unveiled company assets conservatively valued at $24 million. The old partnership also held a great deal of undervalued shares in other companies, among them their direct competitors in the gunpowder business, Hazard and Laflin & Rand. Not having the initial capital for the purchase, the young cousins negotiated a leveraged buyout, giving them a 25 percent interest in the new corporation and four percent paid on $12 million over the next 30 years. Coleman was president, Pierre treasurer, and Alfred vice-president of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. The only cash involved in the takeover was $8,500 in incorporation fees.
Sound management, luck, and hidden wealth resulted in the acquisition of 54 companies within three years. Pierre set out to dominate the industry through payoffs and by purchasing minority shareholders and vulnerable competitors. When the cousins first incorporated in 1902, the company controlled 36 percent of the U.S. powder market. By 1905 it held a 75 percent share of the market. DuPont alone supplied 56 percent of the national production of explosives, with $60 million in estimated assets; it had become one of the nation’s largest corporations.
A new method of operation was required to keep track of the rapidly growing organization. The cousins solicited the aid of Amory Haskell and Hamilton Barksdale, managers who had reorganized their dynamite business into an efficient organization. They remodeled the unwieldy company using elaborate family tree charts composed of levels of managers. The new structure revolutionized American business and gave birth to the modern corporation. The system of organization worked so well that Pierre bailed out the then struggling General Motors Corporation, buying 23 percent of the shares and applying the skills DuPont had perfected. (The Department of Justice later ordered DuPont to divest its General Motors holdings in 1951.)
A Gunpowder Monopoly by 1900
DuPont grew to command the entire explosives market. So dominant were they by 1907 that the U.S. government initiated antitrust proceedings against them. DuPont was deemed a gunpowder monopoly in 1912 and ordered to divest itself of a substantial portion of its business. In addition, early years of incorporation were fraught with tension between Alfred and his more practical cousins. Arguments ensued over the modernization of the Brandy wine yards. Coleman and Pierre saw modernization as the only way to fully utilize the plant. The quarrel, along with other incidents, prompted Coleman and Pierre to take away Alfred’s responsibilities in 1911. In effect, this left Alfred a vice-president in name only.
Modernization, diversification, good management, and a command of the market characterized DuPont’s industrial era phase. The experiments of DuPont chemists with a product known as guncotton, an early form of nitroglycerine, led to the company’s involvement in the textile business. The end of World War I proved the peacetime use of artificial fibers to be more profitable than explosives. In the 1920s DuPont acquired French rights for producing cellophane. DuPont made it mois-tureproof, transforming cellophane from a decorative wrap to a packaging material for food and other products. DuPont also produced the clothing fiber Rayon in the 1920s, and used a stronger version of the fiber for auto tire cord.
Developed Synthetics in the Mid-20th Century
DuPont gradually moved away from explosives and into synthetics. Their most important discovery, Nylon, was created in 1930 by a polymer research group headed by Wallace H. Caroth-ers. The synthesis of nylon came from the hypothesis that polymeric substances were practically endless chains held together by ordinary chemical bonds. Long chain molecules could be built one step at a time by carrying out well-understood reactions between standard types of organic chemicals. Carothers chose one of nature’s simplest reactions—alcohols reacting with acids to form esters. By reacting compounds with alcohol groups on each end with analogous acids, polyesters were produced. Super polymers were later formed when a molecular still was used to extract the water that was formed in the reaction. The excess water had created a chemical equilibrium that stopped reaction and limited chain growth. Experimentation with diamine-dibasic pairs produced a molten polyamide that could be drawn into filaments, cooled, and stretched to form very strong fibers. DuPont later marketed a 6-6 polymer, which was made from the inexpensive starting compound Benzene. The new fiber proved remarkably successful. It was employed as a material for undergarments, stockings, tire cord, auto parts, and brushes.
A large number of plastics and fibers followed. Products such as Neoprene (synthetic rubber), Lucite (a clear, tough plastic resin), and Teflon (a resin used in nonstick cookware) became commonplace, as did Orion (a bulky acrylic fiber), Dacron polyester, and Mylar. DuPont quickly became known as the world’s most proficient synthesizer. The range of textiles that they supplied reoriented the whole synthetic field.
Not every DuPont invention was a success, however. Corfam, a synthetic leather product, proved to be a disaster. Lammont du Pont Copeland, the last du Pont to head the company, invested millions of dollars into promoting Corfam in the 1960s. The product was not successful because, although the material lasted practically forever, it lacked the flexibility and breathability usually found in leather products. Lammont relinquished the chief executive post in 1967 and was succeeded by Charles B. McCoy, son of a DuPont executive. Irving Shapiro took the post in 1974. Shapiro had served DuPont well, acting as the principal lawyer negotiating the antitrust suit brought against DuPont and General Motors Corporation.
Core Purpose: To be the world’s most successful energy and chemistry-based company, dedicated to creating high quality, innovative materials that make people’s lives better and easier.
People: Our goals can only be achieved through outstanding, committed, creative people. We will foster an environment that creates spirit, energy and a commitment to win—an environment in which our capable and diverse workforce sees personal growth and success being directly related to DuPont’s success.
Value: Goals and strategies may change, but our values will remain constant. These values unite all of our businesses and are the foundation of our efforts to provide value to DuPont’s stakeholders—our shareholders, our customers, our employees and society.
DuPont has a long tradition of innovation and discovery. We create value through science and technology, making a difference in people’s lives, both today and in the future.
We are committed to safety and environmental stewardship—enhancing the quality of life of our employees and the communities in which we operate. Our goal is zero injuries, illnesses, incidents, waste and emissions.
We remain dedicated to the enduring values of integrity, high ethical standards and treating people fairly and with respect.
Shapiro led DuPont for six years during a period when the fibers industry stagnated from overcapacity. DuPont’s stream of synthetic fiber discoveries had led it into a trap, for it left them content to exploit the fiber market without looking elsewhere for new products. The demand for fibers collapsed in the mid-1970s, causing a halt in the company’s main business. Climbing raw material costs and declining demand combined to depress the market in 1979. The innovator of a new technology had been the last to recognize that the market it created was losing momentum. The collapse compelled DuPont to concentrate exclusively on repairing its old business, delaying actions to create a new base. DuPont’s rebuilding efforts were also hindered by reducing its commitment to research and development. Continued reliance on fibers caused DuPont to be one of the worst hit chemical companies in the 1980 recession.
DuPont’s continued attention to the fibers business, however, resulted in an important discovery in 1980. Kevlar was added to the company’s assemblage of synthetic textiles. DuPont scientist Stephanie Kwolek discovered the solvent that unclumped the hard chains of molecules comprising an intractable polymer. The resultant revolutionary material proved to be light yet strong, possessing a tensile strength five times that of steel. Fabrics made of Kevlar were heat and puncture resistant. When laminated, Kevlar outstripped fiberglass. DuPont made the largest financial gamble in its history, investing $250 million in a Kevlar plant expansion. Applications for Kevlar ranged from heat resistant gloves, fire resistant clothing, and bullet resistant vests to cables and reinforcement belting in tires. Kevlar also proved successful in the fabrics industry: one half of the police force in the United States soon wore Kevlar vests. Kevlar’s true success, however, depended on the price of its raw material—oil. Kevlar showed no threat of becoming a steel replacement, since the price of its production was considerably higher.
Diversification in the Early 1980s
DuPont reacted to the depressed market in textiles by arranging mergers and acquisitions of other companies in other industries. DuPont’s takeover of the Conoco Oil company (the United States’ number two petroleum firm) was the largest merger in history. Issues of antitrust were prevalent in negotiation for the merger, but in the end DuPont bought Conoco for $7.8 billion. DuPont merged with Conoco to protect itself from the rise in crude oil prices. As oil supplies dwindled, a supply of Conoco oil and coal as raw material for DuPont’s chemicals provided a competitive advantage. Conoco’s sites in Alberta, Canada, and off the north slope of Alaska provided large amounts of these resources. DuPont’s only disadvantage in the Conoco takeover was the introduction of Edgar Bronfman, chairman of the Seagram Company, the world’s largest liquor distiller, into a minority position in DuPont-Conoco. Conoco had been a major acquisition target for Seagram. The merger left Seagram with 20 percent of DuPont. Bronfman saw himself as a long-term investor in DuPont and desired an important voice in the company’s direction. However, Seagram and DuPont arrived at an agreement whereby Seagram could not purchase more than 25 percent of DuPont stock until 1991.
Growth and greater financial security came to DuPont in 1980 when they bought Remington Arms, a manufacturer of sporting firearms and ammunition. The Remington Arms unit of DuPont made a number of multimillion-dollar contracts with the army to operate government-owned plants. DuPont also expanded its scope in the early 1980s with other major purchases. New England Nuclear Corporation, a leading manufacturer of radioactive chemicals for medical research and diagnosis, was acquired in April 1981, and Solid State Dielectrics, a supplier of dielectric materials used in the manufacture of multilayer capacitors, was acquired in April 1982.
DuPont management was determined to reduce the company’s dependence on petrochemicals. It decided to take some risks in becoming a leader in the life sciences by delving into development and production of biomedical products and agricultural chemicals. In April 1982 DuPont purchased the agri-chemicals division of SEPIC. In November the company acquired the production equipment and technology for the manufacture of spiral wound reverse osmosis desalting products. In March 1986 DuPont acquired Elit Circuits Inc., a producer of molded circuit interconnects.
In addition to mergers and acquisitions, DuPont became heavily involved in joint ventures. DuPont had agreements with P.D. Magnetics to develop, manufacture, and sell magnetic tape. It also became involved with PPG Industries to manufacture ethylene glycol. Aided by Olin Corporation, it planned to construct a chlor/alkali production facility. DuPont also forged extensive connections with Japanese industry. The 1980s united them with Sankyo Company (to develop, manufacture, and market pharmaceuticals), Idemitso Petrochemicals (to produce and market butanediol), Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, and Mitsubishi Rayon Company. Furthermore, DuPont established connections in Europe. They became partners with N.V. Phillips (to produce optical discs), EKA AB (to produce and market the Compozil chemical system for papermaking processes), and British Telecom (to develop and manufacture optoelectronic components).
In addition to stock chemicals and petrochemically based synthetic fibers, DuPont looked to the life sciences and other specialty businesses to produce earnings. Edward G. Jefferson, a chemist by training, succeeded Shapiro and directed the company into the biosciences and other specialty lines. DuPont supported these businesses with large amounts of capital investment and research and development expenditures. The company’s fields of interest were genetic engineering, drugs and agricultural chemicals, electronics, and fibers and plastics.
DuPont had the kind of multinational marketing capability and resources to become a major influence in the life sciences. The company sought ways to restructure living cells to mass produce specific microorganisms in an attempt to manufacture commercial quantities of interferon, a human protein that was considered potentially useful in fighting viruses and cancer. DuPont claimed to be the first company to have purified fibroblast interferon, one of the three types of human interferon in the mid-1970s. DuPont developed a blood profile system, artificial blood, and a test for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). They created drugs that control irregular heartbeats, aid rheumatoid arthritis pain, and were antinarcotic agents. In addition to new drugs, DuPont worked to develop new pesticides and herbicides. DuPont built a $450 million business as a major supplier to the electronics industry, providing sophisticated connectors and the dry film used in making printed circuits. DuPont also developed new high-performance plastics. The company’s scientists developed a process called group transfer polymerization for solvent-based polymer acrylics, which was the first major polymerization process developed since the early 1950s.
In the early to mid-1980s DuPont had approximately 90 major businesses selling a wide range of products to different industries, including petroleum, textile, transportation, chemical construction, utility, healthcare, and agricultural industries. Business operations existed in more than 50 nations. DuPont had eight principle business segments: biomedical products; industrial and consumer products; fibers; polymer products; agricultural and industrial chemicals; petroleum exploration and production; petroleum refining, marketing and transportation; and coal. Total expenditure for research and development amounted to more than $1 billion in 1985, and over 6,000 scientists and engineers were engaged in research activities.
Refocusing on Core Businesses in the Late 1980s
However, by this time DuPont was bloated with the numerous businesses it had acquired over the years. Management decided to return to its former policy of focusing on areas of maximum profit. It began moving away from commodity production, instead concentrating on oil, healthcare, electronics, and specialty chemicals.
By 1987 the changes were paying off in some areas, as discretionary cash flow reached $4.5 billion. Biomedical products represented only four percent of sales, but the firm was moving into the large markets for cancer and AIDS testing and research. Breaking into its new markets was expensive, however. Earnings soared at rivals Rhone-Poulenc and Dow Chemical, which were less diversified. Meanwhile DuPont’s pretax income climbed only 4.5 percent, to 3.8 billion in 1988, although sales climbed by eight percent. DuPont still had problems with quality control. In 1988 Ford Motor Co. gave DuPont’s contract for mirror housings to General Electric because paint kept flaking off DuPont’s plastic, according to an April 1989 Business Week article.
Edgar Smith Woolard, Jr., became president in 1989, backed by the Bronfman family. As part of his mission to raise the price of DuPont’s stock and prevent a takeover, the firm bought back about eight percent of its outstanding stock. The electronics division had $1.8 billion in annual sales and had won business in films and imaging, though it was losing money in the highly competitive areas of fiber optics and optical disks. In addition, the Pharmaceuticals business was still losing money. Investment in research and equipment had reached $1.8 billion since 1982, yet most of the drugs under development were years from the market. One area of clear success was DuPont’s textile business. The $5.8 billion division was the firm’s most profitable.
Seeking to raise public awareness of its fibers, DuPont started a consumer products catalogue featuring household items made from its products. The catalogue mentioned copyrighted fiber names like Lycra, Zytel, and Supplex as it advertised the clothes, sporting goods, and house wares. DuPont had reason to be interested in maintaining brand-name recognition in fibers. Lucre, a stretch polymer invented in 1959 and originally used for girdles, became a huge hit after being adopted for biking clothes and other exercise outfits during the early 1980s. By the end of the decade, Lucre clothing had become fashionable. Big name designers incorporated it into their wardrobes, and by 1990, Lucre profits topped $200 million a year. DuPont’s patent on Lucre, the generic name of which is span-dex, had long since expired, but DuPont had continued to improve the fabric and was its only major manufacturer. To make certain things stayed that way, the firm announced in 1990 that it would spend $500 million over three years to build or expand Lucre plants.
Another important area for DuPont was pollution control and cleanup. According to Forbes magazine, the firm was one of the country’s biggest air polluters and was in the process of spending well over $1 billion on pollution control and cleanup. The firm’s chlorofluorocarbon business was being replaced by chemicals less harmful to the ozone layer, at a cost of another $1 billion. DuPont also stood to make money, however, by creating safer herbicides and expanding into the growing recycling market. Partly because of these trends, DuPont’s sales of agricultural chemicals tripled between 1985 and 1990, to $1.7 billion.
The Gulf War temporarily drove up oil prices and refinery margins, leading to profits of over $1 billion for Conoco in 1990. But a worldwide recession was hurting most of the rest of the company. Profits for 1991 fell to $1.4 billion on sales of $38.7 billion, down from sales of $40 billion in 1990. The firm’s electronics products had garnered little prestige within the industry and had fallen well behind earlier projections. Consequently, DuPont began pulling back, beginning by selling an electronic connectors business with $400 million in annual sales. DuPont also took a step back from Pharmaceuticals, putting that division into a joint venture with Merck & Co.
Although the company had been divesting businesses for a few years, it accelerated its efforts at streamlining in the early 1990s. With 133,000 employees and numerous management layers in 1991, DuPont was ready to cut back the bureaucracy. Chairman and CEO Edgar S. Woolard took several classic steps to restructure the company. The number of employees was reduced steadily in the early 1990s, to 97,000 in 1996, and several layers of vice-presidents and managers were eliminated. The remaining employees were given stock options for 600 shares each to encourage a sense of ownership and responsibility for the company. Executives were required to own shares more than equal to their annual salary. “Everyone is now connected to the company,” John A. Krol, who became CEO in 1995, told Forbes in 1997. “They post the price of DuPont stock on watercoolers and safety signs around the company.”
DuPont also continued to sharpen its focus on its core businesses of chemicals and fibers. The firm closed its declining Orion division and in 1991 it sold half of Consolidation Coal Co. for over $1 billion to Germany’s Rheinbraun A.G. In addition, Du Pont sold all of its medical products businesses. In 1993 the company also sold its acrylic business to ICI and in turn bought ICI’s nylon business and later its worldwide polyester films, resins, and intermediates businesses. By acquiring the ICI polyester technology, DuPont could make plastic bottles, a growing market, for less than anyone else in the world. The company increased its marketing of synthetic fibers. DuPont looked for new uses for its popular spandex fabric Lycra, its high-performance fiber Tyvek (best-known for its use in Federal Express envelopes), and its synthetic Kevlar.
Record Profits in the Mid-1990s
After several years of declining profits (from $2.5 billion in 1989 to $0.6 billion in 1993), DuPont reaped the rewards from the restructuring years. The company reported a streak of record profits in the mid-1990s, beginning in 1994 with a net income of $2.7 billion and continuing through 1996 with a net income of $3.6 billion. The company’s stock price enjoyed a corresponding rise: from a low around $15 a share in 1990 to a high of almost $50 in 1996.
Some of these earnings were used in 1995 to buy back the shares owned by Seagram since 1980. To raise money for a venture into showbusiness, Seagram sold its 24 percent stake in DuPont back to the company for $8.8 billion, a discount of 13 percent from the market value of the stock at the time.
Conoco played an important role in the rejuvenation of DuPont. In 1995 some analysts (and DuPont shareholders) were recommending DuPont sell off the subsidiary, which they felt was not even returning the cost of its capital. After scrutinizing the numbers, the DuPont management team decided to hold on to Conoco but reevaluate its decision in a year. In 1996 Conoco returned $860 million in net earnings and bought the support of DuPont’s board. In 1997 Conoco acquired heavy oil reserves in Venezuela and a gas field in Texas, thus increasing its oil reserves by 50 percent.
Joint ventures continued to be an important strategy for DuPont in the mid- to late 1990s. From 12 joint ventures in 1990, DuPont had reached 37 by 1997. Among the most significant were its partnership with the Japanese chemical firm Asahi to market synthetic fibers in Asia, the 50-50 venture with Dow called DuPont Dow Elastomers, and the alliance with Pioneer Hi-Bred International to form Optimum Quality Grains.
DuPont reaffirmed its commitment to the life sciences as a core business in the late 1990s. Bioindustrial, pharmaceutical, and feed and food industries were seen as the new ground for the increasing integration of chemistry and biotechnology. As part of this push, in 1997 DuPont purchased Protein Technologies International, which developed soy-based products, from Ralston Purina for $1.5 billion. The following year the company agreed to buy Merck’s 50 percent share in the joint venture DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Company.
In 1998 DuPont announced its intention to divest Conoco, presumably as part of its effort to focus on core businesses. The divestment would begin with an initial public offering of as much as 20 percent of the energy subsidiary, from which DuPont anticipated a return of up to $7.5 billion. With a second quarter decline in earnings in 1998 of 12 percent, the fall IPO was seen by analysts as a way to boost earnings and share price and further invest in DuPont’s growing biotech business.
Conoco Inc.; Marshall Labs Inc.; Carbide Biochemicals, Inc.; DuPont Canada Inc.; DuPont Asia Pacific Ltd.; Crosfield Electronics Limited; Conoco (U.K.) Ltd.; Conoco Norway, Inc.; Conoco Ireland Ltd.; Conoco Mineraloel Gmbh (Germany).
Consol; DuPont Agricultural Products; DuPont Automotive Products; DuPont Belle Plant; DuPont Biomedicals Department; DuPont Chambers Works; DuPont Chemicals; DuPont Electronics; DuPont Fabricated Products; DuPont Fibers; DuPont Imaging Systems; DuPont International; DuPont Materials & Logistics; DuPont Medical Products; DuPont NDT Systems; DuPont Pharmaceuticals; DuPont Photomasks; DuPont Polymer Products; DuPont Printing & Publishing; DuPont/Shell.
Chandler, Alfred D., Jr., and Stephen Salsbury, Pierre S. du Pont and the Making of the Modern Corporation, New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
Colby, Gerald, du Pont Dynasty, Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1984.
Lenzer, Robert, and Carrie Shook, “There Will Always Be a DuPont,” Forbes, October 13, 1997, pp. 60-69.
Mosley, Leonard, Blood Relations: The Rise and Fall of the du Ponts of Delaware, New York: Atheneum, 1980.
Norman, James R., “Turning Up the Heat at DuPont,” Forbes, August 5, 1991.
Plishner, Emily S., “The Dilemma: Will DuPont’s New CEO Spin Off Conoco?,” Financial World, December 5, 1995, pp. 34-37.
Scherreik, Susan, “Analysts Are Standing by DuPont,” Money, September 1998, p. 32.
Taylor, Graham D., and Patricia E. Sudnik, DuPont and the International Chemical Industry, Boston: Twayne, 1984.
Weber, Joseph, “DuPont’s Trailblazer Wants to Get Out of the Woods,” Business Week, August 31, 1992.
_____, “DuPont’s Version of a Maverick,” Business Week, April 3, 1989.
Weiner, Steve, “But Will They Ever Know Zytel from Lycra?,” Forbes, June 26, 1989.
—Scott M. Lewis
—updated by Susan Windisch Brown
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