Triumphs and Troubles
In the 1970s, Air Products crossed the final divide between a family business dominated by an entrepreneur-owner and a professionally managed corporation. The impetus for new investments, programs, and policies as well as the day-to-day running of the firm had, for some years now, come from leaders such as Ed Donley, Dex Baker, and Lee Holt. Increasingly, too, the company culture was breeding entrepreneurs within the firm. In the mid-sixties, Leonard Pool was preoccupied with his wife's serious illness and then, tormented by her death, he turned his attention to the improvement of health care in the Lehigh Valley. Ed Donley became President in 1966, and guided Air Products into a more structured managerial mode. However, Leonard Pool remained Donley's mentor and the final arbiter of major decisions. In 1973, Pool finally yielded the helm to Donley, who became Air Products' Chief Executive Officer. That same year, George Pool died of heart failure. Two years later, on December 27, 1975, the founder died.
Donley had some rough seas to navigate. The seventies were full of troubles for industrial gas companies, for American business in general, and for the entire U.S. society. The highly competitive drive for market share of the sixties had left Air Products, and its rivals in the industrial gas business, with excess productive capacity and low profit margins. The war in Vietnam raised fears about the limits of American power and American prosperity, and the attempt to spend on guns and butter, on both defense and welfare programs,