14th September 2000

Mr Parker's first major challenge will be to see through Dow's purchase of Union Carbide, the chemicals group, announced in August 1999. Today the all-stock deal carries a value of about $5.8bn. "This was a very exciting merger for Dow," Mr Parker says. "We have technological synergies and good chemistry - we expect to get a lot of value out of this."

The European Union has cleared the Union Carbide purchase; the US Federal Trade Commission has yet to finish reviewing antitrust concerns. Unlike his predecessor, William Stavropoulos, the 54-year-old Parker declines to offer a timetable for Dow's acquisition, however. Mr Stavropoulos had originally predicted a complete stock takeover by April 2000, a guess that Mr Parker acknowledges had been optimistic.

Perhaps even more tricky than antitrust concerns will be overcoming Union Carbide's reputation. A toxic leak from a chemical plant in 1984 caused killed thousands of nearby villagers in Bhopal, India. For many, memory of the incident persists to this day.

"Clearly, we're enormously aware of Bhopal and the fact that the particular incident is associated with Union Carbide," he says. "It was a huge event and a great tragedy." But the group since then has "done what it needs to do to pursue the correct environment, health and safety programmes. We at Dow have been pursuing ours."