Jerry H. Ballengee
Class of 1962, BS
Jerry Ballengee grew up in the small rural paper mill town of Covington, Virginia, the youngest of nine children in his family. “It was a great place to grow up,” says Mr. Ballengee, now retired and living in Roanoke, Virginia. “I played football and basketball in high school. I played in the band, and was a member of the chorus and the A Cappella Choir. I performed in school musicals and just generally had a great time. You knew practically everybody in town and they all knew you.”
After graduating high school in 1955, Mr. Ballengee hired on at the local paper mill (then Westvaco Corporation; now MeadWestvaco) like many of his peers. “I had no interest in going to college back then. My Dad had had a massive stroke when I was in my sophomore year. He was paralyzed on his right side and never able to work again. My older siblings were all chipping in to help Mom and Dad, so I wanted to get a job and do my part,” he recalls. But after a few months working in the paper mill, the teenager decided to seek his fortune elsewhere and enlisted in the Air Force. He spent his service time in Texas, Mississippi, and Japan. “I grew up in the military. They taught me self-reliance and the importance of personal responsibility. Those are life lessons,” says Mr. Ballengee.
Returning home in 1958, Mr. Ballengee went to see his favorite high school teacher, Miss Maude Mahaney. “She was a terrific math teacher and a terrific person.” He told her he had decided to become a math teacher, too. “She complimented me on finally coming to a decision that I needed to go to college, but then asked me if I planned to get married some day,” he says. He told her that he expected he would. In response, her advice was: “If you’re going to feed a family you’ll need more money than you can make as a high school teacher. Become an engineer like your big brother.” (Ballengee’s older brother, Jim, had won an appointment to the Navel Academy in 1953. But after a severe injury to one of his knees during his plebe summer training, he was given a medical discharge from the Navy. He then co-oped his way through Virginia Tech, working at Westvaco in Covington, receiving his chemical engineering degree in 1958.)
Mr. Ballengee enrolled at Virginia Tech in the winter quarter of 1959. “I needed to move through. I was already in my 20s and felt like I was behind. I started in chemical engineering but after enduring the introduction to organic chemistry, which back then constituted the third quarter of freshman chemistry, I knew I had made the wrong choice. I switched to mechanical engineering. Later on I had a few classes with Prim Jones (today known as Mary Berry). Was she a godsend! She tutored more than a few of us struggling males through several courses. If it was technical, she just had it,” Mr. Ballengee says of his only female classmate who is also a member of Virginia Tech’s Academy of Engineering Excellence.
Mr. Ballengee completed his degree requirements at the end of the winter quarter of 1962. Having done well academically and with his military service behind him, his job opportunities were “almost overwhelming.” He received a job offer after each interview, including ones from General Electric, Shell Oil, Schlumberger, Armstrong Cork, and others. But it was Westvaco Corporation that enticed him back into a pulp and paper mill.
“It was Westvaco’s approach that I liked. Instead of hiring for a specific job and career path, Westvaco said, ‘Come to work for us – either plant engineering or process engineering, your choice – and over the next several years we’ll figure out together what your career path ought to be,’” Mr. Ballengee says.
He went to work for Westvaco at its facility in North Charleston, South Carolina, as a process engineer. Within a year he was named a group leader of an interdisciplinary team in the process engineering department. A few years later he was transferred to Westvaco’s Industrial Packaging Plant in New Orleans as a plant engineer.
In 1966, Mr. Ballengee joined Champion International Inc., of Hamilton, Ohio. At that time it was primarily a manufacturer of coated and uncoated printing and writing papers. His early successes in managing the introduction of new, more cost-effective paper coating components into existing product lines led to his selection as a member of the company’s team to design, construct, and start up a greenfield pulp and paper mill in Courtland, Alabama – the first new mill the company had built since 1937.
“At age 28 with only four years of experience, this was an incredible opportunity. I learned so much from so many. It was a four-year project from the beginning of design to completion of start-up. In today’s dollars it was a billion and a half to two billion dollar project. Fortunately, the job was completed on schedule and well within budget,” he says.
After completion of the Courtland Mill in 1970, Mr. Ballengee was moved back to corporate headquarters as Champion’s coated papers product manager in its business planning (marketing) department. This was an entirely new experience, completely foreign to engineering, and became the motivation for him to pursue some business education. He earned his MBA at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, in June of 1974.
Over the ensuing years with Champion and after the successful completion of the product manager’s assignment, Mr. Ballengee completed tours as mill manager at Canton, North Carolina; project manager for the doubling of the Courtland Alabama Mill; and eventually became the vice president of corporate engineering relocating to Stamford, Connecticut.
Early in 1981, Mr. Ballengee was recruited by Union Camp Corporation, another forest products company headquartered in Wayne, New Jersey, to join the company as its vice president of corporate engineering. Union Camp was about to embark on the engineering and construction of a greenfield pulp and paper mill in Eastover, South Carolina, and they were quite anxious to have someone who had been through that experience to head their effort. Mr. Ballengee took on that responsibility and, in the fall of 1984, Union Camp’s New Eastover Mill came on line, ahead of schedule and under budget.
Next came an assignment as senior vice president and general manager of the Kraft Paper and Board Division. In 1986, Mr. Ballengee became executive vice president of the packaging group that consisted of five divisions of the company (Kraft Paper & Board Division; Corrugated Container Division; Flexible Packaging Division; Folding Carton Division; and International Packaging Division) and was elected to the board of directors of Union Camp in 1987. In 1994, Mr. Ballengee became the president and chief operating officer of this Fortune 250 company.
In June of 1999, Union Camp was acquired by International Paper Company, the world’s largest forest products company. At that time, Mr. Ballengee took early retirement and relocated from New Jersey to Roanoke where he currently resides. However, he has not left the business world entirely since then.
In late 2001, as the company emerged from bankruptcy, he assumed the chairmanship of Morris Material Handling Company in Milwaukee, an old line manufacturer of through-the-air, P&H brand, material handling equipment. Having returned the company to solid financial condition, the company was sold to a strategic buyer in April of 2006. He also is currently chairman of the board of CB&I Company, a NYSE-listed Dutch company providing engineering, procurement, fabrication, and construction services primarily to the oil and gas industry. In May of 2008, CB&I ranked third on the Engineering News Record’s list of the top 20 Industrial Process/Petroleum Contractors and 12th on its list of The Top 400 Contractors. Mr. Ballengee has served on CB&I’s board since 1997.
Mr. Ballengee is married to the former Miriam (Miki) Zippin of New York City, whom he met as a widow with three young daughters in 1979. They were married in 1982. He has a son and a daughter from a previous marriage. All five children are college graduates, but as Mr. Ballengee says, “Alas, none of them went to Virginia Tech!”
Class of: 1962
Year Inducted into Academy: 2009