Joseph S. Alford (BSChE '66), Stephen R. Cornell (BSChE '79) named 2021 Distinguished Engineering Alumni

Two Davidson School of Chemical Engineering alumni have been named 2021 Distinguished Engineers by Purdue College of Engineering. Joseph S. Alford (BSChE '66) and Stephen R. Cornell (BSChE '79) will be honored at a virtual event on Thursday, February 25.

Two Davidson School of Chemical Engineering alumni have been named 2021 Distinguished Engineers by Purdue College of Engineering. Joseph S. Alford (BSChE '66) and Stephen R. Cornell (BSChE '79) will be honored at a virtual event on Thursday, February 25.

The Distinguished Engineering Alumni/Alumnae Award is presented to men and women who have distinguished themselves, in any field, in ways that reflect favorably on Purdue University, the engineering profession, or society in general. These alumni are engaged in engineering work and their record of accomplishments is indicated by their growth into positions of increasing responsibility.

Joseph S. Alford (BSChE '66)

Engineering Advisor
Eli Lilly and Company (retired)

For his championing of key technical and auditing practices in the bio-pharma industry leading to the in-house design, development, validation, implementation, and application of computer based process automation and data historian systems.

Career Highlights

2007-present Automation Consultant, pharmaceutical industry
2002-2006 Engineering Advisor, Lilly Corporate Engineering Technology Center
1991–2002 Head, Advanced Process Technologies Group, Eli Lilly and Co.
1986-1991 Chief Corporate Quality Assurance Auditor, GMP and GLP Computer Validation; Head, Life Science Automation Projects and Plant Computer Support, Eli Lilly and Co.
1979-1986 Research Scientist; Head, Life Science Automation Projects, Eli Lilly and Co.
1972-1979 Senior Scientist, Eli Lilly and Co.
1966-1968 Division Officer, Boiler and Electrical Departments; Qualified Operations Watch Officer, Engineering Plant, Attack Aircraft Carrier – USS Coral Sea, U.S. Navy
1966 BS Chemical Engineering, Purdue University
1972 MS Chemical Engineering, University of Cincinnati
1972 PhD Chemical Engineering, University of Cincinnati

Beyond the basics of chemical engineering and the thirst to learn more, Joseph Alford says Purdue gave him an understanding of “the value of staying informed as to opportunities of interest.”

Alford says that he jumped at social as well as professional opportunities while he was a student: “I did just that when Purdue announced its computer match dance — the first ever in the Midwest — and there I met my future wife in front of NBC and CBS regional television cameras.”
After decades of mastering professional opportunities, Alford became a member of the Process Automation Hall of Fame. He is a widely recognized leader in bioprocess automation, batch process control, computer system validation, on-line data analysis, alarm management, process analytical technologies, and applications of artificial intelligence. He has received Eli Lilly’s top three corporate technology awards in engineering, product/process development, and information technology, and has received national automation technology awards from both the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the International Society of Automation (ISA).
Alford, a fellow of both AIChE and ISA, also has received Purdue’s Davidson School of Chemical Engineering’s Outstanding Chemical Engineer Award and the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Alford’s father, a chief jet engine designer for General Electric, set a high bar for his children. Alford says his father often repeated the adage that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Those words hit home for Alford as he struggled with honors math and chemistry as a freshman. “That experience indicated that being proficient at math and science is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for academic engineering success,” he says. “That epiphany has stayed with me since then as a constant reminder that an important ingredient for success is hard work.
“An Eli Lilly vice president convinced me to modify this motto to ‘success requires one to work hard and work smart.’”
In living out that motto, Alford capitalizes on the wisdom gained when disciplines are combined, and he follows Purdue’s leadership in such research and development efforts.
“In recent years, Purdue has been on the leading edge in working on interdisciplinary initiatives,” he says. “In citing examples of the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to certain applications and challenges, one needs to look no further than the skill set needed for process automation.”
Alford’s accomplishments bear out the wisdom in his work. He says the teams he has led that have achieved major advances in “the control of life science manufacturing processes,” are among the achievements that make him most proud.
“I led the team that automated the world’s first commercial bioprocess plant in        which a product (human insulin) was made from man-modified microorganisms using recombinant DNA technology,” Alford says. “The success of this project contributed to the eventual elimination of dependence on animal pancreas glands as a source of insulin.”
He tells students today, “Career success depends more on working well together in teams than it does on individual pursuits.  Remember, there is no “i” in the word 'team.' We are dependent on one another.”

Stephen R. Cornell (BSChE '79)

Joint President and Chief Executive Officer
Sasol LTD (retired)

For his exemplary career in the petrochemical and energy industries formulating new approaches leading to technological innovation and excellence while successfully managing front-end development of multibillion-dollar expansion projects creating operational and financial improvements.

Career Highlights

2016-2019 Joint President and Chief Executive Officer, Sasol LTD
2014-2016 Executive Vice President, International Operations, Sasol LTD
2011-2014 Chief Operations Officer, U.S. Fuels, BP
2008-2011 U.S. Regional Vice President, Refining, BP
2006-2008 Senior Vice President, Petrochemicals - Middle East and Asia, Total Petrochemicals
2003-2006 Executive Vice President, Samsung Total Petrochemicals
2000-2003 Vice President, Base Chemicals - NAFTA, Total Petrochemicals USA Inc.
1999-2000 Vice President, Manufacturing, Total Petrochemicals USA Inc.
1998-1999 Vice President, Southwest Business Unit, Petrofina
1996-1998 Director General, Fina Antwerp, Petrofina
1992-1996 General Manager, Port Arthur Refinery, Petrofina
1982-1988 Supervisor, Exxon Company USA
1979-1982 Engineer, Exxon Company USA
1979 BS Chemical Engineering, Purdue University

Excellence in leadership is often revealed in the midst of crises. Such was the case when BP asked Stephen Cornell for his help during its recovery from a large-scale 2005 refinery explosion.

“BP approached me to join their company and lead the transformation of their refinery operations,” Cornell recalls. “A primary component of this work was a new approach to process safety, which I instituted at all U.S. refineries. This impacted the lives of thousands of employees and permanently changed the company for the better.”
In his role as Chief Operating Officer for U.S. Fuels at BP, Cornell was responsible for all production, sales, marketing and logistics of BP fuel products in the U.S. He was also BP’s Global Head of major downstream projects, providing oversight to all large capital projects in the petrochemicals and fuels businesses.
Leading many large-scale efforts at BP was an exercise in understanding and finessing leadership in teamwork — a skill he began to hone as an undergraduate in the late 1970s.
“While at Purdue, we would often be required to work in teams. I did not appreciate it then, but these sessions were invaluable at teaching me how to lead by influence,” Cornell says. “When teams are established, at school or in a professional setting, a leader may not be explicitly appointed. Being able to help guide a team without being specifically named to lead is a skill that greatly assisted me in my professional career.”
Since his accomplishments with BP, Cornell has taken on positions of greater responsibility and broader scope.
In 2014, Cornell joined Sasol Limited, a global chemicals and energy company listed on both the Johannesburg and New York stock exchanges. He was initially based in Houston and responsible for all operational activities outside Southern Africa, which included the role of executive sponsor for the multibillion-dollar Lake Charles Chemicals Project in Louisiana. In 2016, Cornell moved his family to Johannesburg, the headquarters of Sasol, to assume the role of Joint President and Co-CEO of this firm that operates in 33 countries around the world.
For his career achievements, he was awarded the Outstanding Chemical Engineer Award from Purdue’s Davidson School of Chemical Engineering in 2018.  Outside of work responsibilities, he has been involved with interest groups relating to the field of chemicals and energy.  He previously held the positions of Chairman for the American Petroleum Institute – Downstream Committee, Board Member on the American Chemistry Council and Governor Committee Member for the World Economic Forum – Oil and Gas.
Looking back on the formative years that led to his distinguished career, Cornell says he would advise today’s students to “enjoy all the activities and each friendship to its fullest extent … and get to know their professors. These professors are teaching at the highest levels of academia; they have a history to share and, as the years go by, you come to understand that they are playing an important role in your life.”

Learn more about Joseph S. Alford (BSChE ‘66) and Stephen R. Cornell (BSChE ‘79) at: