Dow poised to grow in size, quality, sales

MIDLAND - Dow Chemical Co. is one regulatory step away from becoming a chemical giant second only to DuPont Co. in worldwide sales. Even so, William S. Stavropoulos, president and chief executive officer, assured shareholders Thursday at the company's annual meeting that Dow will not grow too big to manage. Stavropoulos cited a new quality control technique - Six Sigma - as a way of keeping Dow efficient.

"Six Sigma is about creating a culture that demands perfection and that gives employees the tools to enable them to pinpoint
performance gaps and make the necessary improvements," he said.

Federal Trade Commission approval is the final barrier to Dow's acquisition of Danbury, Conn.-based Union Carbide Corp. The European Union approved the merger last week. Dow anticipates $24 billion in sales this year. Stavropoulos said the $9.3 billion Union Carbide deal will result in Dow reaching $60 billion in sales by 2010, with an 8 percent average revenue growth. "These are not pie-in-the-sky objectives," he said.

Not all at the meeting - at Midland's Center for the Arts - sang Dow's praises. Protesters pointed to a 1984 leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, that killed more than 3,000 people and injured 50,000 in the world's worst recorded industrial accident. Union Carbide paid a $470 million settlement in 1989.

The protesters carried signs reading, "No merger without justice," "16,000 dead and counting." About 20 people yelled, "No justice, no merger."

Staffers from the Ecology Center and the Association for India's Development, both from Ann Arbor, posed questions to Dow's Board of Directors. "Dow tells us a new day has dawned," said Tracey A. Easthope, director of the environmental health project at the center. "Aggrieved citizens of Bhopal, environmental health activists, communities that host Dow Chemical plants, families worried about the health of their children anxiously await evidence that this new Dow exists," she said.

Dow officials expressed sympathy but said they can't accept responsibility for something that happened 15 years ago and involved a company they didn't own. Meanwhile, Dow announced it would split its shares 3-for-1 in June and boost its dividend in the third quarter. In the stock split, shareholders will receive two additional shares of stock for each share they own as of Tuesday, May 23. Dividends will increase 15.5 percent in the third quarter, up to 33.5 cents per share from 29 cents per share.

The annual meeting marked the last time Chairman Frank P. Popoff would preside. Stavropoulos will replace him, and Executive Vice President and President of Dow North America Michael D. Parker will assume the top post in November. Parker also was one of five directors re-elected to three-year terms on the 16-member board.

The others are:
J. Michael Cook, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Deloitte & Touche.
Willie D. Davis, president and chief executive officer of All Pro Broadcasting Inc. in Los Angeles.
J. Pedro Reinhard, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Dow.
Paul G. Stern, partner with Thayer Capital Partners and Arlington Capital Partners - Washington, D.C., investment firms.