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“No matter what you think or what your grandiose ideas are, they don’t amount to a hill of beans if you’re not making money at it. You look at where you’re making your money and you just go that way.” Today, McFerrin’s KMCO owns production facilities in Port Arthur (KMTEX) and terminal/packaging facilities across the Houston area (South Coast Terminals). McFerrin also is a partner in a plant in Louisiana. “What I mostly do is I do work for the large chemical companies; I do the small jobs,” McFerrin said, summarizing his place in the industry. “I put up the capital at a much lower price than what they would do and generally a lot lower than my competitors would do. And I hire the right people to operate and run those facilities. I just try to meet their needs, and I try to stay lean so there’s money in it for them and for me – so we both win.” As is the case with nearly every successful entrepreneur, McFerrin’s venture into manufacturing was a calculated move. His early years in the business had provided him the opportunity to witness and experience the dramatic ups and downs of a speculative and sometimes volatile industry. As he assessed his environment, it was the manufacturing aspects of the field that seemed to provide much more stability as well as room to grow, McFerrin explained. “After having been out from Shell for a few years, I knew how hard it was to make money every month,” he said. “Every time you had a few good months you’d wind up having to pull yourself back up by your own bootstraps and start all over again, looking for something else. I saw that manufacturing was a way that you could build one level that would operate 24 hours, seven days a week. Then you could build something else on top of that that would run 24 hours, seven days a week. Then you could still build something else on top of that. All of that appealed to me because it was a way you could build something solid. I realized manufacturing was a great thing. I realized there was great opportunity there.” Four decades later McFerrin has that same feeling. This time however it’s not about manufacturing; it’s about education, specifically the quality of education being offered at his old stamping grounds. Fueled by an adamant belief that Texas A&M’s chemical engineering program is on the cusp of achieving unprecedented national prominence, McFerrin is doing what he’s always done when he identifies ripe potential. He’s attacking it full steam ahead with a goal of nothing less than turning potential into reality. And though McFerrin isn’t shy about professing his love for all things Texas A&M, this is hardly a case of a former student wearing rose-colored glasses. McFerrin is far from a wide-eyed dreamer; he’s a shrewd businessman who knows what it takes to achieve large-scale success – effective processes, of course. With regard to Texas A&M’s chemical engineering department, that means having the right parts – in this case, people and resources – in place, and McFerrin is committed to ensuring they are. In 2001, he and his son Jeff, a 1992 graduate of Texas A&M, established the McFerrin Professorship in Chemical Engineering to support the teaching, research and professional activities of an outstanding faculty member. That professorship was critical in the department’s efforts to attract top talent. Just a year later and leveraging the increased resources provided by the professorship, the department welcomed to its ranks Professor Mahmoud El-Halwagi who had spent the previous 12 years at Auburn University. There he was named a five-time Outstanding Faculty Member as well as a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s National Young Investigator Award. A national authority in the field of process integration, El-Halwagi’s success hasn’t been limited to the laboratory. Since joining Texas A&M, he’s received a college-level Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching from The Association of Former Students as well as the Fluor Teaching Excellence Award.

“Everything is a process, and whoever has the most efficient, effective process to do things is going to win.”

“I feel like part of the department, and I want to see the department be successful.“

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Four years later McFerrin forever changed the face of chemical engineering education at Texas A&M, making the largest private gift to the department in its nearly 60-year history – a $10 million endowment exclusively devoted to supporting chemical engineering at Texas A&M. “The McFerrin endowment has been an incredible benefit to this department, greatly enhancing the teaching and research initiatives taking place here,” said Department Head and Charles D. Holland ‘53 Professor Michael V. Pishko. “Endowment funds have been used to establish a state-of-the-art distance learning facility in our building as well as to support student travel to domestic and international conferences – an aspect we believe to be critical in their academic development. We’ve also used these funds to recruit top U.S. graduate students and to improve research facilities within the department.” As monumental as McFerrin’s financial support has been, he’s also equally invested his own time and energy to the department’s efforts, serving as chairman of the Chemical Engineering Advisory Board. Professor and former department head Kenneth Hall lauded McFerrin’s work as chairman, stating McFerrin’s “expertise, passion and vision have been invaluable to the department.” “I’m focused on where I can have the most impact – in chemical engineering; that’s my background, Chem-E at A&M,” McFerrin

“The McFerrin endowment has been an incredible benefit to this department, greatly enhancing the teaching and research initiatives taking place here.” Department Head Michael V. Pishko says with a discernable pride. “I feel like part of the department, and I want to see the department be successful. It’s always been successful, but on the national scene there is a constant battle. Even with the new [Jack E. Brown] building, which is great, and the facilities and labs and the endowment, this is still a growing effort, but at least we have a better foundation to grow from now.” That growth, in McFerrin’s eyes, will be characterized by not only offering first-class academics but by providing an overall experience of personal maturation for the students enrolled in the program, an experience he says is unique to Texas A&M and one he believes made him the man he is today. “Texas A&M offers so much more than pure academia,” says McFerrin, who this past year received the highest honor bestowed upon a former student of Texas A&M, the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. “Don’t get me wrong; academics are very good here, and I think we need to continue to be highly successful in academics, but you could find that at lots of places – the same type of quality education. The thing that really counts and makes A&M so different and important is the other stuff. A&M offers something special that very few other universities offer – a certain culture, certain values. A&M is a magnet for strong-valued people with strong work ethics. A&M attracts people like that. The more we can do to help each individual person become more successful in their life, that’s an opportunity we have that most other places don’t.” And it’s an opportunity that Artie McFerrin is committed to seeing realized. Given his track record, Texas A&M and the next several generations of Aggie chemical engineers should be feeling pretty good about that. In addition to his support of Texas A&M’s department of chemical engineering, Artie McFerrin has been one of the university’s most avid and generous supporters in a number of other areas. His many contributions to Texas A&M are visible throughout the campus and include the McFerrin Indoor Athletic Center and the CoxMcFerrin Basketball Center. McFerrin also has endowed the Becky Gates Children’s Center, the Marilyn Kent Byrne Student Success Center in the College of Education and Human Development as well as the Byrne Chair, also in the college of education. McFerrin has served on the President’s Corps of Cadets Board of Visitors, the 12th Man Foundation Board of Trustees, Texas A&M Research Foundation, and the Chancellor’s Century Council.

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Fall 2008 Department Magazine  
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