J. Roger Hirl begins the interview with a discussion of his early life and education. Hirl grew up in Iowa and Minnesota. After graduating from high school, Hirl attended the University of Iowa, earning his B.L.S. in liberal studies in 1957. While he was still in school, Hirl was drafted to serve in the Korean War, returning to the University of Iowa two years later. His early focus in college was pre-med, but he soon switched to business and liberal arts. Hirl worked for Skelly Oil Company both during school and after graduation.
In 1961, he joined Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, working in field sales. Six years later, he became a temporary assistant product manager in New York; this experience confirmed his desire to move into management at Olin. He continued to rise in sales management, moving from New York to Connecticut to Texas. He eventually became senior vice president of Olin Chemicals, a position he held until 1983, when he accepted an offer from Occidental Chemical Corporation [OxyChem]. At Olin, Hirl was active in the litigation regarding DDT sediments and mercury emissions; as president of OxyChem, he became involved in the Love Canal situation. This interest in environmental concerns led him to become active in Responsible Care. Hirl also sought to improve OxyChem's safety record, and initiated special training programs. He discusses his view of chemical industry, his opinions on the future of chemical innovation, and OxyChem's involvement in the Asian market. Hirl concludes the interview with his reflections on winning the Chemical Industry Medal, a description of his family, his civic interests, and his views on attracting people to the chemical industry.