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Shapiro, Irving Saul


SHAPIRO, IRVING SAUL (1916–2001), U.S. business executive. Born in Minneapolis, the son of immigrants from Lithuania, Shapiro rose to become chairman of the giant DuPont Company and corporate America's lead liaison with Washington in the 1970s. A lawyer trained in litigation – he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor of law degree in 1941 – he joined DuPont in 1951 as a specialist in antitrust after working in the Office of Price Administration and the Justice Department in Washington. His rise at DuPont was punctuated by high-profile legal landmarks. He became closely acquainted with the company during a lengthy antitrust case that in 1962 led to DuPont's relinquishing its 37 percent stake in General Motors. Winning the trust of the DuPont family, he rose steadily at the company until he was named chairman and chief executive in 1974, the first lawyer to hold that title. Although he had little formal education in business or science, Shapiro said he developed a deep-seated understanding of business and a flair for dealing with customers from his father, who ran a dry-cleaning business in Minneapolis.

Shapiro took charge of DuPont in trying times. There was an energy crisis in the United States, and the costs of raw materials and fuel were soaring for the company, a petrochemical maker, as the economy was sliding into recession. Shapiro pulled DuPont out of numerous unprofitable businesses and put money into the others. He set up DuPont's first energy department, which created conservation programs and partnerships with oil companies and other manufacturers to develop synthetic substitutes for oil and gas. Many of the management and business models he instituted remained in place for decades. At the time, in the 1970s, antibusiness sentiment was running high. Shapiro defended American business, asserting that too much regulation was hampering America's ability to compete with Europe and Japan. Numerous products, including DuPont's Freon, were being accused of contributing to the depletion of the earth's ozone layers, while others were being labeled carcinogens. Many new regulations and restrictions were promulgated, many of which Shapiro believed stemmed from hysteria, not science.

In 1976 Shapiro was elected chairman of the Business Roundtable, an influential group of business executives. He made regulatory reform a cornerstone of his two-year tenure. He also became a personal adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and was intimately involved in drafting the response to the 1977 boycott some Arab countries placed on companies doing business with Israel. Shapiro was active in Jewish community affairs in Wilmington, Del., and at one time headed its Jewish Federation.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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