Cardinal Cadence - Spring 2011

Co-op to corporate

Larry NorwoodAs corporate vice president of operations for the Lubrizol Corp., Larry Norwood ’73 is no stranger to international travel. The specialty chemical company headquartered in Wickliffe, Ohio, has facilities in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Australia and Asia, and Norwood oversees the operations of all of them, a responsibility that requires monitoring things first-hand at times.

Earlier this year, Norwood visited Nanjing, China, for an official contract signing ceremony with the construction and engineering companies that will build a new facility for Lubrizol in Zhuhai, China. Another business destination offered some enjoyable excursions in Normandy, France. The company has facilities in the cities of Le Havre and Rouen. The travel has made Norwood’s work more interesting and, on occasion, more challenging. “It’s always interesting to get an opportunity to meet different people and see how different cultures approach things,” Norwood said.

Norwood can trace his opportunities for a career with such a global reach directly to his roots at Lamar University. After he graduated from Liberty High School, three of the factors that attracted Norwood to Lamar were its strong engineering program, reasonable tuition and good cooperative education program. Norwood knew little about Lubrizol when it came up as a possible co-op assignment. But, with facilities in Houston, it wasn’t too far from home or from Lamar. In 1969, Norwood went to work for Lubrizol as a co-op student. He has been with the company ever since.

“I really liked the company,” Norwood said. “They offered a lot of challenges and opportunities to do different things as a coop student. I liked the way they treated employees. When I graduated in 1973, I went to work for them full time.”

Then and now, co-op students alternate one semester in classes with one semester in paid employment related to their studies to provide practical professional experience. As a chemical engineering major, Norwood found Lubrizol, which was then a small specialty chemical company in Houston, a good fit.

“It was a company that, as long as you proved you could handle responsibility, they gave you responsibility early in your career. I had the opportunity to work in a number of different areas. That was interesting and exciting,” Norwood said.

The company’s philosophy of building reciprocal relationships with co-op students has paid off. Norwood is not the only person in Lubrizol’s senior management team who got his start with the company through cooperative education. The chief executive officer was a co-op student from Texas A&M, and the chief operating officer was a co-op from Cornell. The company’s strong management and marketing dominance recently prompted Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway to acquire Lubrizol for approximately $9.7 billion. With significant operations in Texas and Ohio, Lubrizol continues to use co-op students from Lamar, among other Texas universities, and from universities in the Midwest.

Staying with one company for an entire career and moving up through the organization was fairly common for people who, like him, started their careers in the early 1970s, Norwood said. With changes in the economy and globalization, however, such a practice is more unusual today. Norwood cites globalization as one of the biggest changes he has seen during his career.

“I guess I started doing work in China as a younger engineer in the early 1980s when the country first started opening up to international investments. It’s been interesting to see how much the chemical industry has grown globally,” Norwood said. “Another major change has been the advances in technology— the use of computers, electronics, distributed control systems in the day-to-day operations. From a technology perspective, things have changed very rapidly.”

Lubrizol produces a variety of lubricant additives to improve the performance of transportation and industrial lubricants and fuels. These products have changed over the years in response to auto manufacturers’ desires to enhance engine efficiency, reduce emissions, improve fuel economy or increase equipment durability. The company also has diversified into advanced specialty polymers used in consumer and industrial applications, such as thermoplastic urethanes, performance coatings and various components used in personal care products.

Because of his vast experience in the industry, Norwood was invited to join Lamar’s College of Engineering Advisory Council. “His expertise in the chemicals business and the lube oil additives business is excellent,” said Jack Hopper, dean of LU’s College of Engineering. “He understands Lamar and understands the industry, so he’s been an extremely valuable addition to the advisory board.”

Norwood said he looks forward to working with the council and with Hopper, who was one of his professors, to further strengthen Lamar’s engineering programs and develop additional graduate education offerings in engineering. He enjoyed his own time at Lamar, particularly the friendships he made and the dedication he saw from professors to take extra time to help students learn. “We had a pretty good time there. When I first started attending Lamar we had some pretty good basketball teams,” Norwood said. “I think my fondest memories are about the friendly campus atmosphere and interactions with other students and the professors.”

Norwood and his wife, Cynthia (Smesny) Norwood ’72, married while attending Lamar. They will celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. The couple met on a blind date in high school and continued dating as college students. Cynthia, who majored in history at Lamar, teaches classes around the country on making traditional hooked rugs using techniques that date back about 200 years. Her interest in the art and craft began as a hobby and evolved into a business, Norwood said. She even wrote a book on the topic, published in 2008.

The Norwoods enjoy interests such as golf, gardening, downhill skiing and attending orchestra performances. Norwood said he also enjoys fly fishing and woodworking. Ever the engineer, he also likes experimenting with electronics. He has built his own computers on several occasions.

In the years ahead, he sees his biggest professional challenge as grooming his successors to ensure continued strong leadership and forward momentum for his company. “This is an issue facing a number of companies. People my age are moving through their careers and are working to develop the next generation of leaders, to make sure the next guy is ready to take our place.”