FORMER STUDENT SPOTLIGHT When Arthur “Artie” McFerrin Jr. takes a look around, he sees a world of processes. Driven by his chemical engineering background, this mild-mannered East Texas entrepreneur believes there’s a better, more efficient process for doing just about everything – whether that’s making a specific product or handling the finances of his multi-million dollar chemical manufacturing company. Most of the time, he’s right. But in addition to his aptitude for breaking things down into their component parts, McFerrin possesses the rare ability to simultaneously do the very opposite – that is, see the “big picture.” Together, those two disparate yet complementary qualities have formed an overall vision that has successfully guided McFerrin throughout his more than 40 years in the chemical manufacturing industry. It’s a vision that was there in the beginning, helping him transform an upstart business into a cash cow, and it’s with him still as he directs his attention to his beloved alma mater, Texas A&M University, and in particular the department that gave him his start. Artie McFerrin has a vision for Texas A&M’s chemical engineering department. He sees it as a major player in advancing chemical engineering education and research throughout the next century and beyond. He’s confident it can become a national powerhouse, one that’s consistently recognized for its teaching and research endeavors and one that’s a perennial mainstay in national top 10 rankings. In its faculty members, he sees some of the foremost thinkers. In its students, he sees the future leaders of industry and academia. In short, McFerrin sees unbounded potential. That’s something for which he’s always had a pretty good eye – though he’s likely to downplay it. With a charming and sincere humility, the Beaumont native describes his time in the chemical manufacturing industry as a “bit of stumbling around” until he learned enough to win a few more times than he lost. In reality, McFerrin hasn’t lost too often. Still, his humbleness isn’t an act. There’s not the slightest hint of pretentiousness about the man. And that stereotypical Texas businessman bravado never took root in this friendly East Texan, even as his successes multiplied. It was back in 1973 when McFerrin first turned his eye towards the entrepreneurial realm. He previously had been working for Shell Chemical after graduating with a chemical engineering degree from Texas A&M in 1965. Though he was gaining valuable experience, McFerrin couldn’t see a future for himself with the company. “It was a first-class company, but I realized it wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of interest in my boss’s job or his boss’s job or even his boss’s boss’s job. I just didn’t have that interest. At that time, I was involved in Jaycees [Junior Chamber of Commerce] and I was getting to see people in all types of business and people who were in business for themselves. I had never really thought about being in business for myself until that point, but somewhere along the line I decided that is what I wanted to do.” So McFerrin began to put his plans in motion. A brief stint in consulting work after Shell introduced him to the right people, and when the Arab oil embargo hit in 1973, McFerrin – who had obviously impressed his contacts – was asked to manage a small plant. It was one of several facilities that had sprung up throughout Texas in response to the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries announcing it would no longer ship oil to nations that had supported Israel in its conflict with Syria and Egypt. As a result, the market price for oil significantly increased, spurring a wide variety of new exploration initiatives throughout the country, all aimed at countering the economic effects of the embargo. During that tumultuous time, McFerrin estimates he frequently worked 100-hour weeks. It was a grueling schedule, but it enabled him to build enough of a nest egg to start his own company. In 1975, he did just that, founding KMCO, LP, a specialty chemical manufacturing and processing company based in Crosby, Texas. “I kind of knew it was risky, but I was really young and had no fear,” McFerrin said with a chuckle. “That’s not to say I didn’t know there was risk, but I knew I could do it. “When I first started off I saw I could reclaim some byproducts, some waste products, and recover some good material
Arthur “Artie” McFerrin Jr.
from the large chemical companies,” McFerrin said. “A lot of these byproducts were being disposed of until the embargo. At that point, people were making money by recovering those byproducts. It started there, where I could do that distillationwise. Then it evolved more into making products for other people. That’s where I decided I needed to do things for the larger chemical companies. The other thing I realized was that I could do small projects for them less expensive and better than they could.” And with that, McFerrin was off and running, all the while relying on that unique vision of his. He scrutinized the details of his business, looking for ways to improve: “Everything is a process, and whoever has the most efficient, effective process to do things is going to win.” But he was never so bogged down by the details as to lose sight of the big picture: