William W. Shropshire, Jr.

President & Chief Executive Officer
American Chemet Corporation
BSMetE '59

[William W. Shropshire, Jr.]

For his outstanding technical achievements, leadership and foresight in the coatings industry, and for his creative use of available resources, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to William W. Shropshire Jr.

Growing up and going to Purdue

I grew up in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago's south side. I worked as a florist delivery boy and got to know the whole city, but went to grammar and high school in South Shore. My father and first cousin were engineers. One of my most vivid childhood memories is accompanying my dad to see the first tap of a newly commissioned blast furnace. With smoke, noise, and men shouting out orders, a white-hot liquid shot along sand channels in the floor and out a door into an odd-shaped car on railroad tracks. It caught my fancy. Later, I learned I liked math and science, particularly chemistry. And having visited my cousin David Clay Shropshire at Purdue, I never really considered going anywhere else.

On student days of work and play

I was an only child. While my parents were supportive, they were also pretty demanding about how and where I spent my time. College was my first opportunity to be dealt with as an adult. It gave me the opportunity to learn independence—set priorities, budget time, and even say no to things. It wasn't only the academic aspect of Purdue that I was learning. I met and fell in love with my wife, Harlan; started a number of lifelong friendships; played freshman and three years of varsity tennis; and joined the Alpha Tau Omega social fraternity, as well as various clubs and the metallurgical engineering honorary society. But it was the freedom to make those choices that set me on the road to adulthood.

Career imagined and realized

As a young man in those days, your most overwhelming concern was how to deal with universal military conscription. You had to decide what you wanted to do given the obligation that all men had to face the peacetime draft. As I progressed through Purdue, I got more interested in the application of metals than I did in the research and development or production of them. Upon graduation, I entered the University of Chicago to get an MBA with a concentration in marketing. After graduating from Chicago in December 1960, I was prepared to serve six months in the Army's Ordnance Corps, but the Berlin and Cuban missile crises turned half a year into nearly two.

I had been recruited by my first company—International Nickel Company of Canada (INCO)—as a sales representative, but my work in the army convinced them to put me in a staff role. It would be 1970 before I entered direct sales. I loved it. It was what I wanted to do, and I finally got a chance to do it at the management level.

I never anticipated working in a small company. I expected my career would be spent with INCO. And when it came time to leave to take over American Chemet Corporation—a company my father co-founded with a short product line of leaded zinc oxide, cuprous and cupric oxide—I had to think long and hard about it. But in the end, I learned to prefer the fast decisions and varied work of a small company. Co-founding Peninsula Copper Industries was both the most exhilarating and scariest thing I ever did. For months I didn't sleep well, but it ultimately turned out to be a huge technical and commercial success.

On success

You prepare yourself to go in a certain direction, but success generally comes from doing small things well and then getting an opportunity to address more and more challenges. You can't predict how a career is going to develop. Purdue prepared me for learning on a lifelong basis. If you master the art of studying, that framework stays with you for the rest of your life. And the opportunity to learn occurs every day because in this age of enormous progress, not a day passes where new ideas and technologies don't become available to you. Using that new information is what makes work such a creative challenge and keeps old engineers like me so enthusiastic and committed to it.

1993– :
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Columbia Paint and Coatings
1992– :
Chief Executive Officer, Peninsula Copper Industries
1983– :
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Peninsula Copper Industries, Inc.
1976– :
President and Chief Executive Officer, American Chemet Corporation
Ventures Development Manager, New York Corporate Office, International Nickel Company of Canada
New England District Sales Manager, Huntington Alloy Products Division
Staff Positions, Huntington Alloy Product Division
United States Army Ordnance Corps, Aberdeen Proving Ground
BSMetE '59, Purdue University; MBA '60, University of Chicago