The interview begins with Richard E. Heckert discussing his family background and childhood as the son of a Miami University of Ohio professor of education. Throughout the interview, he refers to his brother Winfield, a significantly older DuPont executive who influenced his interest and education in chemistry. The interview traces Heckert's early education and training, from high school and Miami University to Army work as a chemist at Oak Ridge, where management experience influenced his pursuit of a business career. He discusses safety considerations and atomic bomb work and reflects on dropping the bomb and developing atomic energy. Next the interview turns to Heckert's graduate career at the University of Illinois, his interest in organic chemistry, work and relationship with mentor Harold Snyder, and considerations in selecting a research chemist position at DuPont.
The majority of the interview details Heckert's experience and rise through management at DuPont: early work with TCNE and tricyanovinyl compounds for dyeing; and various positions at DuPont's Spruance, Clinton, and Circleville plants and in the Film and Plastics Departments. Heckert describes management lessons emphasizing safety practices, customer relations, and decisions on dealing with product developments such as Corfam. After focusing on promotions to vice president, senior vice president and executive committee member, Heckert discusses the reasons and strategies for reducing R&D and details problems with dyes, CFCs, and TEL, emphasizing DuPont's responsibility to consider trade-offs and costs in environmental decisions. Next Heckert summarizes his involvement with environmental concerns and legislation. The final section focuses on Heckert's career as president, COO, and CEO; discussions touch on the division of labor within top management and the Board, Ed Jefferson's role, company growth and acquisitions including Conoco. Heckert describes his marketing emphasis as CEO, changes in relationships between operating departments and executive committee members, DuPont's role in global ventures, hiring from outside the company, and desire for a smooth transition to Woolard. Closing comments touch on scientific innovation, promoting creativity in personnel, major changes in the industry, chemical innovation, and the SCI award.