Executive Q&A: Enterprising Oklahoma City chemist set up first shop at age 9

Executive Q&A: A former exec for ConocoPhillips, Floyd Farha owned and started several businesses before opening Oklahoma City-based Chemical Products Industries Inc., which makes surfactants for energy companies and others.
Oklahoman Published: June 29, 2014

A jar of 4-millimeter beads on the desk of Floyd Farha embodies the lifelong entrepreneur’s current success.

The beads, formed from ferrous carbonate, are the catalyst in SULFURTRAP, a patented product manufactured by Farha’s Oklahoma City-based company, Chemical Products Industries (CPI) Inc., and used primarily to remove harmful hydrogen sulfide from natural gas, natural gas liquids and landfill gases.

CPI sells the product directly to Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Exxon, Dominion and others, and through Sherwin-Williams, Dolese Bros. Co. and hundreds of distributors worldwide. The energy industry accounts for half of CPI’s sales, Farha said, while construction firms add the surfactant to sealers and companies across all industries add it to industrial cleaners.

“We’re growing faster than our inventory,” said Farha, with projects pending in Mexico and throughout Latin America.

Over the past four to five years, CPI has spent $500,000 on patents, he said. Patents, and entrepreneurship, go way back with Farha, a doctorate-level chemist. At age 9, he started a business with his brothers, and over a 21-year career with ConocoPhillips in Bartlesville, secured 85 patents.

Before starting CPI, Farha helped start the medical technology company UroCor, which sold to LabCorp, the largest clinical laboratory in America.

From his offices and plant at 7649 SW 34, where he employs seven, Farha, 80, sat down recently to talk about his life and career. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Tell us about your roots.

A: My paternal grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to Coffeyville, Kan., which was then Indian Territory. My father, who was the oldest of nine children, and mother — whose parents shipped her to America at age 7 during the 1920 Turkish invasion of Lebanon — spent their early married life in Shattuck, near my father’s aunt. From there, they moved to Pampa, Texas, where my father drilled dry holes and ran a grocery store, before losing the store in a fire set by the businessman next door for the insurance money. After the fire, he moved back to Wichita, where my grandfather had lost a clothing store in the Great Depression.

Q: How did your family make a living?

A: We moved to Wichita in 1940, when the focus was on World War II. My father worked as a parts expeditor for Beech Aircraft Co. My brothers and I, when I was 9 and they were 11 and 13, opened a small grocery, which we grew from a 50-foot storefront to a 150-foot storefront, plus opened two other stores. We sold TVs out of the back of the stores. We helped pay off my father’s Pampa debts, buy my grandmother’s home (she wouldn’t take Social Security; she considered it charity), employ my younger uncles and provide many a Christmas for us all. Even with the business, I still managed to play a little baseball and basketball in school — but only after I sorted the rotten potatoes, trimmed the rotten cabbage and bagged cookies we bought in bulk. After I sliced off this (a third of his right index finger), I left the butchering to my brothers. They’ve both died, along with my sister, who was 15 years younger. She was a Down syndrome baby, but lived until her 60s.

by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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PERSONALLY SPEAKING

Position: Chemical Products Industries (CPI) Inc., chief executive

Website: chemicalproductsokc.com

Birthplace and birth date: Shattuck; Aug. 1, 1933

Family: Janet, married 55 years; four daughters of Plano, Texas, Kansas City, Columbus and Cincinnati; 13 grandchildren, ages 11 to 22.

Education: Wichita State University, bachelor’s and master’s in chemistry; University of Kansas, doctorate in chemistry

Housing addition: Quail Creek

Church: St. Paul’s Cathedral

Public service: worked five years with the state Commerce Department, helping to attract technology companies to Oklahoma

Free time: spent with Janet, listening to music and watching videos

Little-known fact: He walked in his sleep as a kid

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