James P. Rogers
James P. Rogers was born at Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1951, the son of Master Chief Eugene Farlow Rogers and Nora Grace Panzanaro Rogers. Jim's parents had met while Nora was serving as a WAVE and Gene was back home after World War II. During the war, Gene had been a prisoner of the Japanese. "He survived the sinking of one of the hell ships, the Oryoku Maru," says Jim. "It was sunk by friendly fire because the Japanese didn't mark their prisoner ships."
Gene and Nora proved an effective team when it came to parenting. Gene was laid-back. Nora was a Type A personality who pushed Jim, his older sister Christine, and his younger sister Patty, to achieve. "Mom was the one who sent me on a four-hour bus ride to interview for an academic scholarship on a day when I had a 102 degree fever," Jim remembers. "She didn't make me go; it was just the thought that she would be disappointed in me that made me get out of bed, get on the bus and try."
Jim didn't get that scholarship, but he did receive others. His achievements at Deep Creek High School in Chesapeake, Va., which included helping to start the debate and tennis teams, stood him in good stead when he applied to attend the University of Virginia.
As the son of two veterans of Naval service, who had even lived at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba before the rise of Castro, Jim naturally went into ROTC at UVa. His college didn't cost his family a cent. Jim worked, and his Navy ROTC scholarship paid all his tuition and the cost of books, plus $50 to $100 a month. Jim also had a DuPont scholarship (the irony of the man who would be Eastman's CEO going to school on a DuPont scholarship is not lost on Jim).
It was during his third summer in ROTC that he found his naval career path. "We did three weeks in Corpus Christi," he remembers. "I wanted to do all the stuff I had seen in the movies. So we did all kinds of aerobatics. I threw up twice in 20 minutes, but I came down knowing that's what I wanted to do."
Once out of flight school, Jim, flying an A-7 light attack jet under the call sign "Strider," was assigned to the Kiss of Death squadron. On his way to the Kiss of Death squadron, Jim spent six months in an intermediate squadron called the Hell Razors. The executive officer was a former POW named John McCain. "He was a bit of a legend even in those days," remembers Jim. "One day my buddy Ramrod and I were flying. We got back down and were told, ‘you've got to go see the XO. You're in trouble. You missed a drug test this morning.' Well, we had been scheduled to fly that morning. So McCain asked if we had missed our drug test and we said, ‘Yes sir.' He asked if we had any excuses and we said, ‘No sir," because we knew there had to be some reason that the Navy was always right. So he lights into us, and there may have been a little profanity, but I'll always remember that he said, ‘You long-haired hippie freaks were doing this and that with the ladies in college while I was…' and I lost him after that, because I was thinking, ‘I've never had long hair in my life. My dad was a master chief and I was an Eagle Scout.' So the whole meeting only took about two minutes, but I'll never forget John McCain calling me a long-haired hippie freak."
Jim flew for 33 months from the USS Independence and USS Eisenhower, during which he even had the opportunity to fly back "home" to Guantanamo Bay for a day. That tour was followed by a two-year tour as an instructor in Mississippi, teaching carrier landings and weapons delivery. To this day, Jim keeps in his office a picture of the Eisenhower taken from his cockpit. "It helps me keep perspective," he says. "In that job, if you screwed up, it really ended badly. If you fly into the side of an aircraft carrier, it ruins your whole day. In this job, the worst that can happen is you get fired. So what are you getting all wound up about?"
During his time at sea, Jim had developed an interest in business and finance. "I'd always read the Wall Street Journal while the other guys were reading the funnies or the sports or other stuff," he says. "So I bought one of those US News & World Report books that tells you which are the best schools. I applied to Wharton and got in."
JP Morgan called when Jim was about to graduate. "I met with them, and I made the decision to work there based on the people at the company, not based on the money or the job title." Jim stayed at JP Morgan for about five years during the heydays of leveraged buyouts between 1983 and 1987.
It was during his time at JP Morgan that Jim met a cash manager at United Technologies. "Her name was Laura," he says.
In 1987, Jim made a curious career choice. He left a secure position as a VP at one of the most recognized banks in the world and went to work for a family-owned company in Wallingford, Connecticut. "Amphenol was where I learned how to work difficult credits," Jim says. "We were triple-c plus credit, and there aren't many stops between that and bankruptcy. So I learned a lot about business."
While Jim was at Amphenol, the resume' of Laura Cipparone crossed his desk. "I recognized her as soon as she arrived for the interview," he says. "So I said, ‘you probably remember when I was with JP Morgan and I called on you when you were a cash manager.' She looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Nope. Doesn't ring a bell.'"
Laura got the job anyway, then after a time, took a job with another company. The two began dating and when Jim got an offer to become treasurer at GAF-ISP in New Jersey in 1992, the couple accelerated their existing plans, marrying two weeks later.
GAF-ISP was Jim's introduction to the chemical industry. It was also where he became CFO for the first time, when he was promoted in 1993. Just ten years removed from business school, Jim was chief financial officer of a $2 billion enterprise. It turns out he had a secret weapon: Laura.
"At that time, I had only been on the treasury side. I hadn't been on the accounting side," Jim says. "But Laura had worked in finance for several Fortune 50 companies. So once or twice when I first became CFO, people would come to me for advice and I'd tell them, ‘Let me sleep on it and get back to you tomorrow morning.' Then I'd go home and she'd say, ‘Oh, you don't want to do that.' The next morning I'd say, ‘Guys, we don't want to do that.' She's a very smart lady."
Almost seven years later, Jim attracted the attention of the headhunters who were seeking a new CFO for Eastman Chemical Company. "When I made career changes that were people-based - going to JP Morgan and coming to Eastman - things worked out very well," he says. "The changes I made based on money made me nowhere near as happy."
Jim admits that not everyone he worked with in his early days at Eastman was happy to see him coming. "I had a little more of an edge to me then," he says. "It had always been no-nonsense when it came to accountability."
Because he has confidence in his team's competence, Jim says it makes his job easier. "I want to lead a team of people that are the best in the world at what they do. So when I meet with my people, I think, ‘what can I do to make them the best possible at their job?'"
"I have five stakeholders," he says. "I have shareholders and I have employees and I have suppliers and customers and communities.
The community aspect has grown more important to Jim over time. Jim now funds a foundation on the board of which sits his two daughters. "I thought it was important that my daughters see the philanthropy side of things," he says.
Jim's daughters are grown now. Anna Katelynn, who goes by Kate, grew up in Chesapeake, attended Pepperdine University as an undergraduate and is now an art history major at Notre Dame University. The youngest, Jessica Lauren, who goes by Jess, just graduated from NYU and is already shopping her first movie script.
Professionally, he says, he'd like to be remembered for growing Eastman. "We were about as small as we had ever been when I became CEO - in terms of number of employees, locations, sales, everything."
But Jim says he really hopes to be remembered for something other than his work. "I agreed once to speak to some graduate students in business," he recalls. "I told my daughters that I didn't know what I was going to say. They said, ‘Dad, the students will be encouraged by whatever you tell them.' I thought, ‘What a nice thing to say.' Then they said, ‘those students are going to think, ‘if he can become a CEO, anyone can.'"
The thousands of Eastman employees who have seen the company grow under Jim's leadership would probably beg to differ, as would the hundreds of Eastman suppliers and customers, the shareholders who have seen the value of the company increase, and the citizens of the communities in which Eastman facilities play a vital economic role.