Hall of Fame inventor, you were still an undergraduate here at the University of Delaware when you provided a key solution to a manufacturing problem at W.L. Gore & Associates, the company your parents, Bill and Vieve, had started in 1958 to manufacture electronic wire and cables using the polymer PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). Your solution helped the company earn its first patent, and W.L. Gore's first growth period was launched.
After earning your bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, you went on to the University of Minnesota, where you earned a master's and a doctorate in chemical engineering. You returned to Delaware to join the family company, working in research and development. By 1969 your research led to a watershed discovery: a new polymer, expanded PTFE, which reshaped the company's future. After that, in addition to its electronic products business, Gore expanded to a host of product applications. The best known of these products was GORE-TEX fabric, the world's first breathable waterproof fabric, worn by trans-Antarctic explorers, hikers, cyclists, firefighters, and policemen, among others. In addition, expanded PTFE had applications for pollution-reducing filtration systems, energy-efficient fuel cell assemblies, and enhanced cardiovascular devices. The invention of expanded PTFE transformed the company and landed you in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
All told, you have earned nine patents. Your many professional awards include those from the Society of Plastics Engineers, the Chemical Heritage Foundation & Chemist's Club, and the Society of Chemical Industry. You have been inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and the National Sporting Goods Association Hall of Fame. The University of Delaware has awarded you its Medal of Distinction and named you to its Alumni Wall of Fame.
Creative business leader, the innovations at Gore extend beyond its products, for the company is just as celebrated for its unique work culture, which you have said was inspired by the give-and-take of ideas and freedom to explore you experienced as a student. Gore has a lattice management structure driven by direct, person-to-person communication. Decisions are made based on experience and knowledge rather than by title or position, and all associates are encouraged to grow in knowledge, skill, and responsibility and to make their own commitments. As a result, W.L. Gore & Associates has been listed among the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" since the list began in 1984.
You led the company as president from 1976 to 2000, guiding it from a wire-and-cable manufacturer to a multi-billion dollar enterprise. While the company is still headquartered in Newark, Delaware, its offices and plants span the globe. It ranks in the top 200 on Forbes magazine's list of the largest privately held firms in the U.S. and employs approximately 9,000 people around the world.
You have chaired the company's board of directors since 1986, a role you continue to fill to this day as you usher W.L. Gore & Associates to a promising future.
Munificent benefactor, you have always given freely of your time, energy, and knowledge as well as your monetary wealth. You have served as a trustee both of the University of Delaware itself and of the University of Delaware Research Foundation. Your family's generosity to the University of Delaware has included substantial support of campaigns for laboratories, scholarships, fellowships, and several of the University's Colleges. Most significant of all, your multi-million dollar gift in 1995 enabled construction of Gore Hall, a landmark classroom building on The Green.
The great economist and Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt compared innovation to energy. "Just as energy is the basis of life itself," he said, "and ideas the source of innovation, so is innovation the vital spark of all human change, improvement, and progress." Dr. Gore, you are a true inventor and innovator. You have helped to nurture a company from infancy to maturity and brought to market valuable new technology and new products that have enhanced and even saved lives. We are especially proud because you are one of our own, a Blue Hen through and through.
Therefore, under the authority of the Board of Trustees of the University of Delaware, I have the pleasure and honor of conferring upon you, Robert W. Gore, the degree of Doctor of Science and do declare you entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges to that degree appertaining throughout the world. In testimony thereof, I am pleased to present to you this diploma.
A. Gilchrist Sparks III
May 29, 2010