William S. Stavropoulos

Chairman and chief executive officer, The Dow Chemical Company

Nationality: American.

Born: May 12, 1939, in Bridgehampton, New York.

Education: Fordham University, BA, 1961; University of Washington, PhD, 1966.

Family: Married Linda S.; children: two.

Career: The Dow Chemical Company, 1967–1970, research chemist in Pharmaceuticals; 1970–1973, research chemist in Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics; 1973–1976, research manager in Diagnostic Products; 1976–1977, business manager in Diagnostic Products; 1977–1979, business manager in Polyolefins Plastics; 1979–1980, director of marketing in Plastics; 1980–1984, commercial vice president of Dow Latin America; 1984–1985, president of Dow Latin America; 1985–1987, commercial vice president of Basics and Hydrocarbons; 1987–1990, group vice president of Dow USA; 1990, president of Dow USA; 1990–1991, vice president; 1991, senior vice president; 1992–1993, president; 1993–1995, president and COO; 1995–2000, 2002–, chairman and CEO.

Awards: Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 1998; CEO of the Year Kavaler Award, 1999; Man of the Year, Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, 2000; American Section Award, Society of the Chemical Industry, 2001; Chemical Industry Medal Award, 2001; Business Management Award, Society of Plastic Engineers, 2003.

Address: The Dow Chemical Company, 2030 Dow Center, Midland, Michigan 48674; http://www.dow.com.

■ William Stavropoulos, the chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company, was a driving force behind responsible as well as profitable production at the largest chemical company in the United States and the second largest in the world. As described by David Hunter of Chemical Week , Stavropoulos received numerous prestigious awards for his commitment to restoring "respect and respectability to the industry" (October

William S. Stavropoulos. AP/Wide World Photos.
William S. Stavropoulos.
AP/Wide World Photos

24, 2001), leading a major reorganization of the company when he became chairman and CEO in 1995. He retired in 2000 after a five-year tenure, but his successor failed to maintain the momentum he had created; Stavropoulos returned to his former position in 2002 to again move the company into a strong leadership position in the industry.


William Stavropoulos was raised on Long Island, New York, where he lived with his immigrant Greek parents above their family restaurant. At one time in his youth Stavropoulos was on the same team as the future Major League Baseball–Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. Stavropoulos eventually went off to study pharmacy at Fordham University, earning a bachelor's degree in 1961, then attended the University of Washington, receiving a doctorate in medicinal chemistry in 1966.

Stavropoulos started his career with Dow in 1967 as a pharmaceutical research chemist. He moved steadily up through the organization, going first to Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics, then moving into plastics to become business manager for Polyolefin Plastics in 1977. He eventually became director of marketing for the Plastics Department in 1974. After a few years as vice president and then president of Dow Latin America, Stavropoulos was named commercial vice president for Dow USA Basics and Hydrocarbons in 1985. Continuing his rapid climb through the organization, he went from vice president to senior vice president to president of Dow by 1992; he became COO in 1993, then CEO in 1995.

The outstanding success Stavropoulos enjoyed in leading The Dow Chemical Company to its global position was recognized by a number of prestigious groups, among them three Hellenic organizations: he was named Man of the Year in 1995 by the American Hellenic Education Progressive Association, in 1998 by the Hellenic American Bankers Association, and in 2000 by the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce. He also received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998.


While Stavropoulos was COO, he and some of his colleagues saw a need to completely reorganize the company in order to meet the challenges of a growing global economy. Later, as CEO, he reengineered the company from one based on geographic organization to one designed around business units. Rather than discarding the original organization, he simply rebalanced it, placing business first in importance, followed by geography, then by job function.

Stavropoulos reduced 12 layers of management to five and put in a system-wide computer-based communications system. He told Beth Belton of BusinessWeek , "We can communicate better and network better. It allows us to have global processes—have global meetings with everyone sitting in their office" (May 3, 2000). Stavropoulos also added a 13-member management board. The company's more than two thousand products all fell within the 15 specific business units, which were operated quite independently, with the head of each unit responsible for that business worldwide.

In addition to the internal restructuring of the organization, Stavropoulos reshaped Dow's external operations, selling some units and acquiring others to focus growth on chemicals sold by tank car. The biggest acquisition was Union Carbide, as that merger made Dow the largest chemical company in the United States, second worldwide only to the Germany-based BASF. Union Carbide unfortunately came with the legacy of asbestos-exposure claims and a disastrous chemical accident in Bhopal, India, in 1984; however, Dow accepted no responsibility for either the tragedies or the cleanup of the accident site.

As Dow had a mandatory five-year limit to the CEO position, Stavropoulos had no choice but to retire in 2000, leaving the company in a strong position in the industry. His successor, Michael D. Parker, did not have the intense personality that drove Stavropoulos, and the company started to flounder as the economy worldwide moved into difficult times. Chemical & Engineering News noted that Parker was described as too "patient" by Dow insiders, where Stavropoulos was "not a very patient guy in making decisions" (December 23, 2002). After two years of an ever-worsening scenario Dow reinstated Stavropoulos, and Parker was retired.


As Stavropoulos was a chemist before he became an executive, he was ambitious for Dow to become an industry leader with a commitment to ethical practices. He focused research and development on bringing new products to market using the chemical-industry standards of Responsible Care and strived to adhere to sustainable development—that is, the use of raw material and energy obtained from biomass rather than petroleum. Stavropoulos received the prestigious American Section Award from the Society of the Chemical Industry in 2001, not only for his role in making Dow a global leader in the chemical industry but also for the high standards he imposed on the industry in the process.

See also entry on The Dow Chemical Company in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Belton, Beth, "Dow's Boss on Why It's Sticking with Chemicals," BusinessWeek Online , May 3, 2000, www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/may2000/nf00503e.htm .

Brandt, E. N., Growth Company: Dow Chemical's First Century , East Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University Press, 1997.

Dolan, Kerry A., "Chemical Transformation," Forbes , November 1, 1999, pp. 97–100.

Hunter, David, "In Support of Research," Chemical Week , October 24, 2001, http://www.chemicalweek.com .

Storck, William, "Dow's Parker Out after Two Years," Chemical & Engineering News , December 23, 2002, http://pubs.acs.org/cen/topstory/8051/8051notw1.html .

—M. C. Nagel

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