The fate of DuPont de Nemours Inc. (DD) is emblematic of the concerns Leo E. Strine Jr. has been been voicing about the American economy for many years, as the former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court tells David Marcus in the latest Drinks With The Deal podcast.
A pillar of Wilmington’s corporate community since the early 19th century, in 2015 DuPont endured “a proxy fight that exemplified all the worst things about our corporate governance regime,” said Strine, who recently joined Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz as of counsel.
Two years later, the company agreed to merge with Dow Chemical Co., and the combined company then split into three separate entities: DuPont, Dow Inc. (DOW) and Corteva Inc. (CTVA).
“It’s sad,” Strine said. “At one point, New Castle County Delaware had more PhDs than any country in the country” because of DuPont’s commitment to research and development. “There was an awful lot of pain. DuPont is a shadow of itself in terms of its participation in public affairs. To see the DuPont Building in Wilmington — which isn’t called the DuPont building anymore — without the DuPont company is a heart-wrenching thing, and it’s a story about how important it is to have headquarter companies. Anyone who doesn’t understand why nations protect the companies they have, all you have to do is think about Wilmington without DuPont.”
In Strine’s view, DuPont’s fate is the product of a system that has come to excessively privilege the interests of stockholders and senior management over those of workers. He hopes Joseph Biden, a major figure in Delaware and national politics for almost 50 years, can help restore some balance to the American economy.
Strine has focused on another public figure in his leisure reading recently: Thomas Cromwell. Strine loved “The Mirror and The Light,” the final novel in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about the rise and fall of the chief minister to the English King Henry VIII and one, Strine said, “which I commend to anyone who is involved in public life or exercises any degree of power over any human. It’s a brilliant portrayal of how power and influence can change a person in a way that’s almost imperceptible to the person himself.”