Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Adieu Hercules

Hercules is no more. It's recent acquisition by Ashland Chemical brought to an end a tale (and trail) of tears and death by a thousand cuts. I had a front row seat for a short period (more about this below), as my first job after school was with Hercules in the Packaging Films Group (which was really only a polypropylene film group).

Hercules started back in 1912 as part of the anti-monopolistic breakup of DuPont. Originally making only black powder, the company expanded so that by the 1980's, it was in pulp and paper chemical, polypropylene resin and film, and even had an aerospace division. And then things started to fall apart. They sold off their share of the PP joint venture (Himont, with Montedison of Italy as the partner), followed by the PP film business which was rapidly becoming a commodity requiring ever bigger investments in larger machines, followed by the aerospace division, followed by the tackifying business... There just wasn't much left.

Regarding my first job: I started in late 1989 as a newly minted Ph.D. I was part of the R & D organization, but management decided that the researchers needed more practical experience so they had some of the people located at the manufacturing sites. In my case, this was Terre Haute. This wasn't a bad situation, as we were called in often to help with manufacturing problems, but we had no responsibility for any of the problems, which was a good thing, as there were plenty of problems. In one case, we came within 6 hours of shutting down a customer. To say this was a major customer was an understatement. This customer was (and still is) so large that pretty much everyone on the face of the planet has heard of them. There was yelling and screaming in meetings that I've not heard since. Once the crisis was over, things were never the same due to the internal shufflings that followed. But to my young eyes, the writing was clear: I left for greener pastures within a year.

And so it is adieu Hercules, not au revoir, but adieu.

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