Experience the Moravian Effect
Al Pape ’97
Vice President of Oilfield Chemicals & Division Strategy
MeadWestvaco Specialty Chemicals
Throughout the semester, Inside Moravian tells the story of one of Moravian’s alums who exemplify what we call the Moravian Effect. The added value from their Moravian experience is created through Moravian’s emphasis on strong, personalized majors, hands-on learning opportunities, and encouragement of a deeper enjoyment of life—which is nurtured by engaged faculty and alumni. Surveys of our graduates show that these qualities help them grow in four years into focused adults who succeed and excel in an increasingly challenging world.
Moravian, ‘Leaps of Faith’ Put Pape on Path to Success
When discussing the significance of Moravian College on his life, Al Pape ’97, the son of a mechanic, couldn’t have chosen a more perfect metaphor. “Moravian was the gear between where I was and where I am now,” he reasoned.
As vice president of oilfield chemicals and division strategy at MeadWestvaco Specialty Chemicals, a Fortune 500 company, Pape has found a position that truly incorporates his background and skill set as a chemistry major and a self-described people person. Of course, his path has been anything but marked, though the journey was made easier because of the self-confidence he gained as a Moravian undergraduate.
Having grown up in small trailer in Kutztown – a house that literally had wheels, he points out – Pape gravitated to chemistry for an obvious reason: it came easy to him. “Plus, when I looked at information in the career office, I figured you could make a decent living as a chemist,” he said.
Once on campus – thanks to a generous financial aid package, the only way his family could afford college – Pape recalls he excelled at being a “chameleon,” an attribute that has served him well professionally. Whether he was with the science majors in Collier Hall’s laboratories or the athletes at basketball practice or on the golf course, he could fraternize with both groups, and do so comfortably.
“Moravian was the first chance I had to be exposed to people with backgrounds different from mine,” Pape says. “When you grow up in a small town, everyone is pretty much just like you. For a kid who had never been anywhere or met anyone, Moravian offered a diversity of perspective and thought.”
Moravian also made Pape realize working on a laboratory setting wasn’t for him. “I’m really outgoing and really enjoy and get a lot from interacting with people,” he explains. However, by the time he realized being a chemist wasn’t his calling, it was too late to change majors. “I had four years of grants and aid and when that was done, I was done. It was going to be a chemistry degree whether I liked it or not,” he says.
His next decision was one of his best, pursuing a business minor and taking finance and accounting courses, which he really enjoyed.
Unfortunately, upon graduation, the only job he found was temping in a Bethlehem Steel lab testing water samples. For eight months, eight hours a day he sat in front of a machine miserable. “That reassured me that I was making the right choice to leave,” he recalls. “I wasn’t going to be a chemist.”
However, the job market for a salesman with no sales experience was brutal. It was then Pape credits one of several “leaps of faith that ended up working out amazing well,” he says. Answering a classified he saw in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pape landed a position as salesman at Sartomer, a chemical company, handling a sales territory of New Jersey, New England and Canada. It was a daring first step for someone who had traveled just once in his life – for a spring break trip to Cancun his senior year.
“This is where Moravian comes in. It provided me with the confidence to take the first step to throw myself into the pool and see if I could swim,” he says. By the time Pape decided to leave Sartomer 12 years later, he was a young Michael Phelps. He excelled at talking up chemists and business leaders alike, discussing molecules, finance or whatever the situation called for.
As part of a promotion at Sartomer, Pape moved to Rhode Island and also pursued an MBA at the University of Rhode Island, balancing two classes a semester over three years while working full time. Pape called it the “logical next step” recognizing the leadership positions in the chemical industry consisted of people with undergraduate science degrees and graduate business degrees. It didn’t make the two nights a week spending four hours in a classroom less daunting however. “But I was in my late-20s, and I’m a goal-oriented guy. I thought this was a part of the puzzle,” says Pape, who later also studied at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago.
After a few promotions, Pape was back in Philadelphia area, but realized it was time to move on. Again, he took another leap of faith, trading away the equity he built up gaining salesman awards at Sartomer for a new challenge at Kraton Polymers in Houston, Texas. At the publicly traded company, Pape served as the global marketing director for a $500 million business.
ABOVE: Pape has spent a good majority of his time abroad in recent years, including a January 2014 trip to Beijing, China, where he visited the Forbidden City.
ABOVE: Al ’97 and Carrie Pape were married in the Moravian Chapel on the Priscilla Payne Hurd Campus on Oct. 6, 2001.
Pape doesn’t hide the fact the new challenge brought fear. “I was a little bit scared,” he says. “I thought maybe I won’t be as successful in this new, larger company.”
For the next two years, Pape ran with the “treadmill maxed out,” he says. For the first nine months, his wife, Carrie, and daughter, Ellery, stayed in Exton trying to sell their house. This meant Al hopped on a 6 a.m. Monday flight to Houston each week, returning on the weekends when he wasn’t traveling, which was most of the time. He estimates he spent the better part of five months of the year traveling internationally, traversing Europe and Asia.
“In two years, I got 10 years of career experience,” he says. At Kraton, Pape received the mentorship he sought, learning how to interact with CEOs while gaining the global perspective he needed.
“It was the absolute greatest career move I could have made, but it came with some sacrifices for me and my family,” he says. This realization led to a decision to seek a more balanced life, one he found in Charleston, S.C., with MeadWestvaco (MWV) Specialty Chemicals.
In June 2012, Pape arrived in Charleston as a business director for Pine Chemicals, a part of MWV, but 18 months and two promotions later, he’s quickly moved up to his current vice president title. In this personalized position, he oversees both the company’s oilfield business and acts as a strategy leader for a $1 billion division.
“It is not exactly an 8 to 5 job, but it’s fun,” he says. “For me, it’s the perfect intersection of the chemistry part with the people and business parts.”
In recent years, Pape has reconnected with the College, serving on the Leadership Council and even attending last fall’s Comenius Dinner. At the dinner, he fondly recalls telling his former professor, Carl Salter, how his chemistry degree propelled him forward.
Additionally, Pape remains especially close to a group of Moravian friends, meeting or talking regularly with Tennant Magee ’96, Chris Michno ’97, JP Orlando ’96 and Sean Richardson ’97, among others. It was at Magee’s urging that Pape considered joining the Leadership Council. “Now I am in a position to start giving back, and it was the right time to get involved,” he reasoned.
Pape explains current Moravian students should know there is no defined path to success. “You don’t leave college and draw a straight line to a VP or CEO role, not matter how talented you are,” he says. “You can’t predict how it’s going to happen, but if you are smart, put in your best effort and are open and willing to consider things differently, my experience is that those people turn out to be the most successful.”
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