Home Business Frank Popoff, who sought to lead a friendlier Dow Chemical, dies at 88

Frank Popoff, who sought to lead a friendlier Dow Chemical, dies at 88

by SuperiorInvest

Frank Popoff, CEO and chairman who tried to make Dow Chemical more conciliatory to regulators and environmentalists in the late 1980s and 1990s, and who pushed the chemical industry to adopt safer practices, died Feb. 25 at his house in Midland. Michigan, where Dow is headquartered. He was 88 years old.

A company spokesperson said the cause was cancer.

When the Bulgarian-born Popoff was named chairman and CEO of Dow in 1987, the company had begun trying to shed its image as a bellicose chemical giant that had made napalm and the defoliant Agent Orange for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. ; released toxic waste, such as dioxins, into the Tittabawassee River from its plant in Midland; and fought the Environmental Protection Agency to avoid elevated inspections of its emissions.

An estimated $50 million advertising campaign that had begun two years before Popoff rose to the top used the slogan “Dow lets you do great things.” Their goal was to change public perception of Dow, promoting an image of it as a more palatable corporation, underscoring charitable donations and humanitarian uses of its products.

“I think we have a lot of work to do in terms of the way we are viewed,” Popoff told the New York Times in 1987, shortly before succeeding Paul F. Oreffice as chief executive. “We know we will never change Ralph Nader's mind. But Dow is at peace with itself and we want our people to feel good about the company too.”

The company was best known then for manufacturing chemicals, including chlorine, as well as for using chemicals in the manufacturing of plastics, pharmaceuticals, and grocery products such as Saran Wrap, Fantastik cleaning fluid, and Ziploc bags.

Regulators and environmentalists were very focused on chemicals at the time. In 1991, Popoff and another Dow executive, David Buzzelli, created a panel of outside environmental policy advisors (including former EPA administrator Lee Thomas) who examined Dow's operations and were able to obtain confidential information. A current version of that dashboard remains in place at Dow.

Between 1988 and mid-1991, Dow reduced its emissions of 121 harmful chemicals that the EPA had tracked by nearly a third, and was on track to meet its goal of cutting emissions in half.

“I'm in the chemical business,” Popoff told The Detroit Free Press in 1992. “That's synonymous with a lot of bad things. But I am in favor of environmental responsibility.”

In a speech to the Economic Club of Detroit a year later, he explained the need for Dow to be open to the ideas of regulators and environmental activists. “There is no alternative to environmental reform in our industry,” he said, arguing that chemical companies should lead such efforts or be forced to deal with poorly designed regulations.

Carol Browner, the EPA administrator at the time, recalled in an email that Dow was “easier to work with” under the Popoff administration. But when she suggested in 1994 that the agency wanted to “replace, reduce or ban” the widespread use of chlorine and chlorinated products within three years, Popoff sent an irritated letter to President Bill Clinton.

“It would be irresponsible to pursue a policy that assumes all chlorine products are bad without considering either the weight of scientific evidence on chlorine chemistry or the economic ramifications of a chlorine ban,” he wrote. He added: “The decision to take such a broad approach to this very complicated issue was made without industry involvement. “The Dow Chemical Company is committed to constructive engagement.”

Jack Doyle, who wrote “Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical & The Toxic Century” (2004) for the Environmental Health Fund, an advocacy group, said chlorine was too important to Dow's bottom line for the company to abandon it. without putting up a fight.

Dow's commitment to the chlorine industry was “so pervasive and so integrated into the global economy,” he added, “that making really dramatic changes was out of the question.”

Frank Popoff, whose given name was Pencho, was born on October 27, 1935 in Sofia, Bulgaria. His father, Eftim, also known as Frank, ran a dry cleaning business with his mother, Stoyanka (Kossoroff) Popoff, who was called Stany.

He immigrated to the United States with his parents and sister in 1939 and settled in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Inspired by a high school teacher who had been gassed while fighting in World War I, Mr. Popoff studied chemistry at Indiana University, where he earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in business administration in the same year, 1959.

However, he did not want to be a chemist.

“Maybe I lacked the creativity and vision that successful chemists have,” he said in a 2012 interview with the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute, in Philadelphia). “I was really interested in the commercialization and application of chemistry.”

He joined Dow in 1959 and remained with the company for 41 years. He worked in its urethane laboratory, then in technical services and chemical sales in the early 1960s. Over the next quarter century, he held increasingly influential positions: president of Dow Europe in 1981, executive vice president of Dow Chemical in 1985 and, two years later, president and CEO. He was appointed president in 1992.

Under Popoff's rule, Dow Chemical expanded the company's Asian operations and bought a majority stake in drugmaker Marion Laboratories in 1989 (it was renamed Marion Merrell Dow) before selling it six years later amid patent expirations and a strong competence.

In the early 1990s, Dow Chemical was embroiled in controversy over the safety of silicone breast implants manufactured by Dow Corning, its joint venture with Corning Inc.

“Rightly or wrongly, there are a lot of people outraged about implants,” Popoff told The Free Press in 1992, but added: “Our responsibility is limited to that of a shareholder, because that's what we are.”

In 1995, however, a Nevada jury found the company liable for more than $14 million in damages after a woman suffered health problems caused by leaking implants. The following year, the New York State Appellate Division ruled that Dow Chemical was not liable in 1,400 lawsuits over the implants.

Popoff resigned as CEO in 1995 and as president in 2000. He later taught at Indiana University for a time and served on corporate boards.

He is survived by his wife, Jean (Urse) Popoff, whom he met in college and whom he married in 1958; three sons, John, Thomas and Steven; and four grandchildren.

Jim Fitterling, Dow's current president and CEO, said Popoff's most important accomplishments revolved around making safety a critical objective – “not that it wasn't important, but he put it front and center” – and be one of the first defenders of sustainability. That included generating less waste, consuming fewer resources and better ensuring employee safety. He helped promote a voluntary, industry-wide code of conduct that formalized those principles, called Responsible Care.

But Popoff said it wasn't always easy to get other companies to comply. At first there was rejection.

“Some things had more impact for big companies than for small ones,” he told the Science History Institute. “Then the hard work began, ensuring that everyone complied. And what can you do? You can use whatever bully pulpit you have to assure other people that not only is it in their best interest, but it is mandatory for the industry to survive without bringing down the animosity and ill will of society, which the chemical industry sometimes it is capable. of doing.”

Source Link

Related Posts