By Sam Waltz
He lives in the Centennial development, off Buck Road in Greenville, just steps from the 1802 foundations of America’s chemical industry, Hagley Museum and Library, but the eyes of Pat Confalone are on the newest global horizons of the chemical industry.
Given that he has just taken office as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Chemistry Society (ACS), that’s a great quality to have.
After generations of chemists and chemical engineers who focused on polymer chemistry, the ACS has grown its umbrella to a broader definition of its focus, from life sciences and bio-chemistry to nanotechnology.
And Confalone, who spent careers in both pharmaceuticals and at the DuPont Company, is comfortable broadly across the new definitions of ACS’ focus.
Confalone described himself as “the American dream realized” in a recent interview. He grew up in a mostly blue-collar Italian community in the Lehigh Valley where his grandfather was a slate quarrier who had been pulled out of school in the sixth grade to go work.
Pat Confalone, now 69, the grandson of that slate quarrier, graduated Pius X high school, then went on to earn a BS degree in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard. He studied under Robert B. Woodward, who won the 1965 Nobel Prize for chemistry for his work on organic synthesis.
Confalone interviewed at DuPont out of college, but started his career in 1971 at Roche pharmaceuticals. Going through its files for a particular skill set, DuPont found him and recruited him back into research in 1981.
“DuPont had gotten very serious about life sciences by about 1980, and they needed help in pharma to fulfill commitment,” he said. “I was flattered that they had remembered me over the 10 years. I came down to hear them out, I went through a number of interviews, and I felt it was a real opportunity to help out DuPont,” he said.
He moved back into the pharma side 1991 first with DuPont-Merck pharma and then DuPont pharma, and then went with it briefly in 2003 when Bristol Myers Squibb acquired it.
DuPont brought him back quickly, and he became VP of Global R&D from 2003-13, when he retired. He’s remained very active both in consulting and in his volunteer service to the ACS.
“I’ve always been an R&D guy, also doing a total focus on science, but also on managing large research groups, working in discovery and development,” Confalone said.
The ACS is a nonprofit professional society with more than 161,000 members, the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research. It publishes 47 scientific journals, and has an operating budget of about $500 million.
For scientists and engineers, the ACS is to them as the American Bar Association (ABA) is for attorneys and the American Medical Association (AMA) is for physicians. It’s a peer group that focuses on professional development and growth, publishing new findings and advancing the profession and the industry.
For Confalone to head the ACS is akin to a Delaware attorney who might head the ABA or a Delaware physician who might head the AMA. It’s a singular professional and career honor of the highest type.
“The ACS has ‘expanded its tent’ over the last 10 years in terms of ‘what a chemist is’,” he said. “The ACS is more inclusive, with chemistry as the central science, but focusing too on nanotechnology and other fields. It even publishes the Infectious Disease Journal.”
Confalone has been on the ACS Board for six years representing the MidAtlantic at the Society, which is headquartered in Washington DC. His two predecessors each served for three years, he said, and he hopes to join them in that length of service in leadership.
Coincidentally, in the “it’s a small world” category so emblematic of Delaware,” as Confalone arrives as Board Chair, the new CEO who reports to him is a former boss from the DuPont Company, Tom Connelly who recently retired as Chief Innovation Officer at DuPont. As part of the planned transition, as the former CEO approached retirement, it was a national search that led to Connelly, so once again the two former colleagues are back in harness.
His work, Confalone said, is not only to chair four meetings of the Board each year, but to serve as the Society’s chief spokesperson and to be out at regional meetings, and local sections, giving talks and working with members.
“For me,” Confalone said, “it’s just an incredible bookend to my career, to my work.”