Michael H. Ott

President and CEO
Polysciences Inc.
BSChE ’74

For his outstanding executive leadership of an advanced-technology manufacturing corporation

Life as You Only Dream It Can Be

Michael Ott is one happy camper, and he’d be the first to admit his joy comes from legal, healthful chemicals. “I am one of the very few people who got to do exactly what I always wanted to do,” says Ott, owner and president of Polysciences Inc.

Ott grew up on a farm in southern Indiana and knew from a young age that he wanted to study chemistry. “Maybe it was from sitting on a tractor and having bugs swarm around me and wanting to do something about them,” he jokes. A minute later, his tone is more serious: from an early age he wanted to own a chemical company. With his eyes on the prize, Ott methodically went about reaching that goal.

After graduating from Floyd Central High School, he enrolled at Purdue and studied chemical engineering. At the end of his first year, seeking a way to help pay for his college education, he joined the Cooperative Education Program, in which students alternate a year working for a company and a year in school. Ott joined Rohm & Haas Company as a process engineer in its Louisville plant and lived at home across the Ohio River.

Learning the Business Side

When Ott graduated in 1974, he had 13 job offers but chose to stay with Rohm & Haas, because the time he had spent with the company in the co–op program put him closer to his goal of running a business.

“A lot of people, when they first graduate from engineering school, are asked to go into the plant so they can learn the processes before they go into the business side,” Ott says. “Because I had done the co–op work already, I was able to go straight into the business side.”

Ott worked as a technical representative for Rohm & Haas and moved to its marketing department in Philadelphia, where he was responsible for a region that included Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. In addition to working, he was able to fill out his resume with an accounting degree, which he completed in the evenings at a local college. After three years on the East Coast with Rohm & Haas, Ott decided to return to school for an MBA at the University of Chicago. He handed in his resignation, only to have the company offer him a job as a technical representative in Chicago–while he was on his honeymoon–and tell him it would also pay for his business degree.

From 1980 to 1986, Ott worked overseas for Rohm & Haas, first as sales manager in New Zealand and then as division manager in Mexico. When a devastating earthquake rocked Mexico City in 1986, the Otts decided it was time to return to the United States. Mike Ott was in Guadalajara at the time of the quake and was thrown out of a hotel bed; his wife, Ginger, and infant son were in Mexico City. They were unharmed but emotionally shaken by the experience.

A Dream Fulfilled

It was at this juncture in his career that Ott took a big step toward his goal by joining Polysciences Inc., a chemical company in Philadelphia founded in 1961 to make sample preparation chemicals for use in electron microscopy. Founder and owner David Halpern was nearing retirement, and Ott saw an opportunity. He joined Polysciences as a general manager and slowly increased responsibilities until 1993, when Halpern retired and Ott bought the company.

In the last decade, Ott has steered Polysciences towards success in a niche market, making “very pure, very expensive materials for custom specialty applications.” The company employs 150 workers in its facilities in Pennsylvania; Knightdale, North Carolina; and Eppelheim, Germany. In addition, its wholly owned subsidiary, Bangs Laboratories Inc., is located in Fishers, Indiana, and Dionis Inc. is in Charlottesville, Virginia. Sales exceed $25 million annually, up from $10 million annually in 2002.

“I had the benefit of great education and varied experiences in the U.S. and different countries,” Ott says. “I had perspective and youth and that helped. I’d say, ’Sure, we can do that.’ We can make absolutely anything as long as it is legal and not too dangerous.”

Having realized the goal of owning a chemical company, Ott is content.

“Being independent is a very satisfying thing,” he says. “It’s also terrifying, because there is no one else to depend on. Having my fate in my own hands is the most important thing to me at this point.”

So what’s next? Ott has a plan for that, too. His older son, Michael Ryan, is a senior in chemical engineering at Purdue. Son Andrew, a 6' 10" basketball recruit at Villanova, is a freshman studying business. Ryan likes to spend time in his father’s office chair, but Ott says he’ll have to wait a while before he can sit in that spot. The plan is for the boys to study, get work experience, and then take over the firm. Ott figures Andrew’s renown as a basketball player will help with sales and marketing.

The clock is ticking.

“I want to prepare the company for the boys to take it over,” says Ott. “They’re both very interested in it. I have about 10 years to get things in the best condition that I can and have them be prepared.”

2005– School of Chemical Engineering Capital Campaign Committee, Purdue
2002 Outstanding Chemical Engineer, Purdue
1993– President, Chief Executive Officer, Owner, Polysciences Inc.
1990–93 Vice President and General Manager, Polysciences Inc.
1986–90 General Manager, Polysciences Inc. (Warrington, PA)
1982–86 Division Manager, Rohm & Haas (Mexico City, Mexico)
1980–82 Sales Manager, Rohm & Haas (Auckland, New Zealand)
1977–80 Technical Representative, Rohm & Haas (Chicago area)
1974–77 Technical Representative Rohm & Haas (East Coast)
BSChE ’74, Purdue University
MBA ’80, University of Chicago