The Past, Present and Future of DuPont
The company and family continue to have influence on First Staters’ lives.
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It’s easy to forget that the du Ponts weren’t always Delaware’s first family. The Rodneys, Reads and Bedfords, among others, had made their mark well before E.I. du Pont and family settled on the banks of the Brandywine in 1802.
But the family’s hold on the company—11 heads of the business spanning five generations from 1802 through 1967 (including Walter S. Carpenter, whose brother married a family member)—easily surpasses the Fords, Rockefellers and other American familial corporate dynasties.
Most of those businesses rose to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “By the time they were getting started, DuPont was in its fourth generation,” notes Nathan Hayward III, one of the 195 adult descendants of Pierre S. du Pont de Nemours (E.I.’s father) living in Delaware as of 2011, according to the du Pont Genealogy Committee.
For generations, the family controlled both the executive suite and the board of directors. As recently as 1970, family members held nine of the 24 seats on the board, and seven of the nine had been company employees.
Today, there is only one family member on the board: Eleuthère “Thère” du Pont, the son of the former governor—and he never worked for the company.
Pete du Pont, now 78, was part of the last generation of family members who anticipated carving out a career with the company. He majored in mechanical engineering at Princeton, not out of any great love for the subject, but because “that is what you did” if you anticipated working for the family business.
But Charlie Copeland, 50, grandson of Lammot du Pont Copeland, the last of 11 family members to serve as the company president, remembers “talking with some of my cousins when we were teenagers about how we weren’t going to work for the company.”
Copeland, however, did work for the company for seven years, in information systems assignments in Wilmington and in Mississippi, after graduating from Duke University. By the early ’90s, both he and the company were seeking new directions. “I wanted to be more entrepreneurial,” he says in explaining his decision to return to Duke for his MBA.
Copeland, in addition to heading the state Republican Party, now runs Associates International, a direct-mail and printing business.
One of Copeland’s cousins, W. Laird Stabler III, a lawyer and lobbyist, says he never thought of working for DuPont. “I always thought I’d go into a private practice, never with a corporation,” he says. Besides, he adds, “I figured they would be looking for people with a technical or scientific background, subjects I wasn’t strong at.”
Neither Copeland nor Stabler could name any relatives now employed by the company, and both said they wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t any.
“There are many bright members of this family who are very successful, but chose for one reason or another not to go to the company for employment,” Stabler says.