Out of Thin Air: A History of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., 1940-1990

By Andrew J. Butrica; Deborah G. Douglas | Go to book overview

PART IV
A FORTUNE 500 CORPORATION

Air Products' sales exceeded $1 billion in 1978 (Table 10). As the company reached that benchmark, the business system in America was entering a wrenching period of intense competition, renewed energy shortages, and high unemployment. The deep recession of 1981-1982 would add to the problems of an economy in need of renewal and reform.

The challenges facing Air Products' management and employees were formidable. The industrial-gas business, hit once again by excess productive capacity, low prices, and intense competition, also saw new challenges in a growing globalization as American firms pushed further into European and fast-growing Pacific Rim markets, while facing fresh competition at home from the foreign-based giants of the industry. The company now was under closer scrutiny from institutional investors. Two Chief Executive Officers, Edward Donley and Dexter Baker, shared the task of continuing the dramatic growth Air Products had experienced during the previous four decades. In tackling that task, Donley and Baker enriched the company culture through their emphasis on the human resource functions of the firm, and on "getting close to the customer." They would continue to give technical innovation, engineering expertise, aggressive salesmanship, and an opportunistic entrepreneurial style a central role in corporate strategy.

The search for new investment opportunities would prove perilous, as the company pursued federal contracts in the short-lived synfuels industry, and expanded its engineering activities at an inauspicious moment. Yet, out of these uncertainties would emerge a recognizable third business area, that of environmental and energy systems. That new area was created largely by the entrepreneurship that the company culture encouraged, and which its officers sought to cultivate. And if the corporation had become one that Leonard Pool would barely recognize, Air Products would continue to build on his legacy.

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