The roots of integrity, identity
Carroll was born in Massachusetts and moved to the West Coast, just outside Los Angeles, at the age of 8, where he lived for 20 years.
If there is one other business besides sales that has proven just as difficult to find success, it is the restaurant business, an industry in which Carroll's father worked his entire career.
Carroll began with basic jobs there, and eventually became a cook. While he did not remain in the family business for long, he adopted his father's work ethic through these early roles, as well as through jobs around the house.
"I remember when I was 11 or 12 years old, my father was working typical restaurant hours from like 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.," Carroll said. "I would wait for him on the patio, where we would listen to Vin Scully doing the Dodger games."
At one point his father suggested the idea of building a better patio, which his father designed himself and employed the manual labor of his son.
"Halfway through the project I stood up and stretched and was looking at our progress," Carroll said. "At that point my father said I had better learn to work with my head, because if I was going to work with my hands I was probably going to starve to death.
"I took that to heart, and it drove me to higher education and creativity."
Before his two-year stint at Mount San Antonio Community College in Pomona, Calif., however, the military came calling in 1966—quite literally—as Carroll was drafted into the Vietnam War. He served stateside as a mess sergeant at Fort Ord in Northern California, supervising personnel in garrison and field installations and preparing food from a master menu.
A brief stint at the family restaurant followed upon his return from the U.S. Army, and he obtained his first day job at TRW while enrolling in college at night with the intent of becoming a chemist.
"At that point, I was just rolling with the punches," he said. "Not long after I came back from service I got hired into the labs at TRW where we were assaying metal thickness—mind you these were 2-ft. by 3-ft. pieces rather than 2 microns by 3 microns that you see today."
For three years, Carroll found himself on a strict regimen of work during the day and school at night, and the schedule paid off when he attended an interview with a recruiting company in City of Industry, Calif.
"GE had a plant there that had just opened, and they were looking for a lab technician—someone who was in their 20s, married and attending school, with their military service out of the way," he said. "I checked all the boxes."
As silicone goes, so goes John Carroll
Since the late 1940s, space exploration and aerospace innovations had been blossoming, and that was exactly the industry that Carroll found himself entering in the late 1960s—with an expensive new elastomer coming online on a commercial scale.
In 1943, as convoys traversed the brutal North Atlantic in the winter toward England, destroyers employed search lights to see aircraft in the sky and submarines when they surfaced—both friend and foe. The lights required tremendous power, and they had to withstand the onslaught of wind, rain, snow and salt spray.
"And this was a hell of a heat source against a cold environment," Carroll said. "It did not take long before the leather gasket they had been using failed. This put people and equipment in peril."
In response, Corning Glass and Dow Chemical resurrected an invention by a GE chemist that combined silicon metal and methyl chloride—what is known today as silicone. And this material could take the harsh pounding by the unrelenting North Atlantic weather.
Fast forward to Carroll's position as a lab tech with GE's aerospace engineering facility in City of Industry, where silicone was just making its debut in commercial aircraft and further aerospace applications.
"Instead of metals, now it was rubber. And they were all high-temperature applications," Carroll said. "Lockheed had a plant in City of Industry, and Boeing was in Seattle, and we were trying to get as many products qualified as we could—many of which are still around today."
The move to automotive was the next logical step, and STP CEO Andy Granatelli soon came knocking, searching for silicones for race cars—something that could transport hot fluids and insulate within extremely tight, hot places.
"We got involved in auto at the time, but we stayed primarily in aerospace—the cost of silicone was still so high compared to organics or natural rubber," Carroll said. "Once manufacturing caught up, more applications in automotive came to light."
In 1973, Carroll met his lifelong mentor, Sylvester "Shorty" Long, general manager of GE High Consistency Rubber, where he took a position in sales.
"From that I figured maybe field sales was a good idea," Carroll said. "I worked in HCRs and LSRs, but strictly in rubber—no fluids, resins or greases (for which silicone also is known). It just kind of happened that way."
With that position came a move to Cranford, N.J., where silicone in automotive was burgeoning due to its demand volume. First it was spark plug boots—which are still made of silicone today—and next came ignition cables, where graphite was impregnated into a weave of fiberglass.
"This was difficult, because it needed to be conductive and silicone is inherently an insulator," Carroll said.
In 1979, Carroll became an account manager for GE Silicones in Ohio, where he remained for 11 years under Shorty's watchful eye. Here, one of his accounts was Packard Electric, a division of GE, which was "far and away the largest user of silicone rubber in the world at that time," Carroll said.
Weather Pack: Making his mark
When rudimentary computers began being installed in automobiles, they required connections that were reparable as more and more equipment was being placed under the hood.
"You could climb inside the engine compartment of a 1950 Ford," Carroll said. "All of a sudden there was no room anymore. The heat amplifies in these cases, since the manifold is right there. There is only so much you can do with a radiator."
Enter the Weather Pack, a new application for which Carroll received qualification on a mass scale—and a prestigious award from GE's plastics division (silicone was under plastics at the time) for his efforts.
"We needed an elastomer that stayed true to itself, with toughness and lasting ability," he said. "Certain areas had to be unbuckled without destroying the case, and we had to keep moisture out in an oily environment. There are literally hundreds of connections under the hood. Silicone had to be the answer."
It turned out to be the biggest application up to that point ever for silicone rubber, and it was unique in its design, since it had to be pristine when the casting tool opened, ready for use immediately.
And it was intuitive in its design, using a fenyl oil that floated inside, which came to the surface to allow the parts to be assembled and disassembled thousands of times.
"The rubber kept its integrity," Carroll said.
So how did Carroll balance the sales field with his ability to be the harbinger of extremely technical customer requests for his design engineers? His background helped, but the harsh winters in the Northeast region of the U.S. did not.
"It resulted in more chemists being in sales than any other degree," he said. "Our communication was a telephone. No computers, no cell phones. And we learned where all the best pay phones were—I mean the ones you could drive up to in the winter, roll your window down, stretch the phone out, roll your window back up and do your business from inside the car."
Dow CEO Hansen credited Carroll for his foresight with the Weather Pack.
"Most notably," Hansen said, "J.C. helped Delphi Packard Electrical Systems (now Delphi) and its molders to develop Weather Pack technology that began the application of silicone rubber for automotive connectors."
Hansen also praised Carroll for his "instrumental" role in the integration of J-Sil into Dow Chemical Corp. STI (now Dow).