Little, John

Degree conferred: Doctor of Science (D.Sc.)

Orator: Patterson, Stephen E.

to be Doctor of Science

His name to the contrary, John Little has become a giant in the field of industrial chemistry. He is now retired after building for himself an illustrious career as a research chemist, research manager, development manager, director, and ultimately chief executive officer in several corporations located in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. Proudly, we can add that his remarkable career began here at the University of New Brunswick.

John Little was born in Fredericton and he grew up here during the years of the Great Depression and the Second World War. He had only a young person's view of these great events, yet, like so many of his generation, he came to maturity in the post-war years with a determination to get the best education he could and to participate in the monumental task of rebuilding and expanding the world's peacetime economy. He excelled in the UNB science program, taking honours in chemistry, and continued directly in the graduate program just then attracting international attention under the brilliant direction of Frank Toole and Karel Wiesner. The facilities here at UNB were primitive by almost any standards, with make-shift labs in Memorial Hall and in temporary buildings fashioned from old army huts, but the quality of the scholarship was second to none. After earning his Ph.D. in a remarkably short three years, Dr. Little went on to the University of London for two years of post-doctoral studies.

The subject of his research was synthetic polymers, the potential uses of which were at first only dimly realized but which eventually transformed whole industries. In 1957, he went to work for the Celanese Corporation in Montreal and Kingston, Ontario, where as a research chemist he continued his interest in synthesizing polymer fibres for industrial or commercial application. Out of this research came his invention of polyester polymer and fiber for reinforcing the walls of automobile tires, the "polyester tire" as it has become popularly known. Needless to say, his invention revolutionized the manufacture of passenger tires, and made enormous profits for his company. Dr. Little stayed with the Celanese Corporation for 24 years, advancing rapidly through a number of progressively more responsible positions mostly in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was directing the world-wide marketing of the company's products out of New York City when in 1981 he made an important career change.

In 1981, Dr. Little became a senior vice-president of Great Lakes Chemical Corporation in West Lafayette, Indiana. His responsibility was the development of corporate technology, which included introducing new technologies and products through external acquisitions or internal development. Part of the company's strategy was to acquire other companies whose products or technical expertise might fit in with the broad range of Great Lakes' activities. Given Dr. Little's experience, the company made him CEO of a number of these subsidiaries and it was his job to sort out the winners from the losers. Perhaps his greatest success was in reorganizing and diversifying Associated Octel, a British-based operation which tripled its profits during the six years in which he served as its sole executive director.

It is difficult to do justice to the scope and diversity of John Little's career as a chemist and businessman. What stands out, is the quality of the man. He has dealt on a daily basis with some of the biggest corporations in the world, but he has remained as warm-hearted and good humoured as the student who attended UNB, and as committed to the search for new ideas and practical ways of applying scientific knowledge as he was when he left here 45 years ago. We welcome him back today, and take pride in acknowledging his remarkable achievements.

From: Honoris Causa - UA Case 70, Box 3

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