Dean's Advisory Council: James O'Brien
James J. O'Brien is the retired Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Ashland, Inc. He presided over the transformation of Ashland from a multi-industry petroleum refiner and marketer with holdings in chemicals and transportation construction into a global specialty chemicals company. O'Brien guides a company of nearly 15,000 employees working to develop products, services and solutions that, through chemistry, meet customers' needs and contribute to improved quality of life.
As chairman and chief executive officer, O'Brien lead Ashland's Executive Committee, whose members set Ashland's global strategy, manage its capital, and uphold Ashland's operating principles.
O'Brien joined the former Ashland Chemical Company in 1976 as an accountant, a year after starting as an accounting intern. He quickly moved into operations, serving in product marketing and sales management positions in the chemicals and plastics businesses during the '80s.
By 1992, Ashland, then known as Ashland Oil Inc., was a large multi-industry corporation: the largest North American distributor of chemicals and plastics; a leading supplier of specialty chemicals worldwide; one of the U.S.'s largest highway contractors; a producer of natural gas, crude oil and coal; one of the largest independent refiners; a regional gasoline retailer and a top U.S. motor oil marketer. Also by 1992, O'Brien had gained the attention of then-Chairman and CEO John R. Hall. Hall tapped O'Brien to serve as his executive assistant to support him as the company grew its nonrefining businesses, strengthened its competitive position and focused on reducing its dependence on earnings from refining.
The year 1994 saw O'Brien, as vice president of Ashland Oil and general manager of branded marketing, take on the challenge of reinvigorating Ashland's branded gasoline marketing operations. Barely a year later, he was named president of the company's Valvoline division and became an executive officer of Ashland. At Valvoline, O'Brien and his team implemented a master brand strategy, while driving innovation and expanding the product line. In 2001, as group operating officer, O'Brien initiated the successful redesign of the Ashland Distribution business model and increased Ashland Specialty Chemical's focus on markets, new products and applications and geographic expansion.
This broad experience prepared O'Brien to lead the transformation that Ashland is undergoing today. With his proven teambuilding skills and a clear vision of the Ashland of the future, O'Brien was elected to his present role of chairman and chief executive officer in 2002.
A native of Circleville, Ohio, O'Brien is a graduate of The Ohio State University, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance and a master's degree in business administration. He is a 1994 graduate of Leadership Kentucky.
O'Brien serves as a director of Humana Inc. He is also chairman of the board of trustees of Midway College, a member of the Dean's Advisory Council for Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, and serves on the board of directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.