Friday, July 14, 2006

"Only in America" is right!


"Maybe I shouldn't disagree with the Oracle of Omaha," I interjected, "but I think that the stock [Coca Cola] will take a big hit tomorrow [the day after announcing the resignation of CEO Doug Ivester]."
Unfortunately I was proved to be right as the stock declined about 10%. Warren [Buffet], to his credit, chased me down in Washington the next day to say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong and you were right. You are the new oracle!"
At the next finance committee meeting, when the Coca Cola CFO asked him a complicated financial question, Warren responded by saying, "I don't know, you better ask Paul!"

The "Paul" in this excerpt is Paul F. Oreffice, former CEO and Chairman of the Board of The Dow Chemical Company. The excerpt is from his new autobiography Only in America: From Immigrant to CEO which I just finished. This is a wonderful book, overviewing the extraordinary life of an charismatic industrialist and I heartily recommend it.

Born into a middle class Jewish Italian family in 1930's Italy, Paul's father was persecuted by the Fascists, and his family fled on the last commercial vessel to leave Italy before it entered World War II. Abandoning everything and emmigrating first to Ecuador, and ultimately to the United States, Paul finished college at Purdue and began work at Dow in 1953, ultimately earning the position of CEO, and then Chairman. Having experienced both the best and the worst the world has to offer, Paul succeeded because of his character and upbringing. His experiences sharpened his outlook on life, and allowed him to develop the principles, attitudes and habits that would bring him lasting success. At Dow he was instrumental in transforming a national chemical company into one with a global reach, and innovated the use of some of the financing mechanisms to operate globally. His hard charging, get the job done attitude makes for some interesting stories.

It is the story of Paul's development and his adventurous outlook on life that make this book worth the time. It is a glimpse into the benevolent world of one of America's titans, and into the environment that America offers men who wish to make something of themselves.

I first met Paul Orefice as a young co-op student at Dow (he was the key executive on the Dow recruiting team for his and my alma mater, Purdue University), and he served as an inspiration for me early in my career. You'll understand why when you read this book.

I met him for a second time last month when he signed my copy of Only in America.

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