Derek Till

Recollections of Derek Till

Derek E. Till started at Arthur D. Little, Inc. in 1951 as a bench chemist in the basement of 30 Memorial Drive.  He retired 34 years later, in 1985, as Vice President in charge of the Product Development Laboratories.  Dr. Till is a gifted story teller; he provided us with some colorful insights into ADL cases and people.

Introduction to ADL

Derek arrived in the US from the UK in 1951. Shortly after arriving, he met the retired Research Director of Rumford Baking, also an English emigrant.  He told Derek about ADL and provided an introduction to Earl Stevenson, then President.

Derek hadn’t heard of ADL, but he followed up.  Several days after being interviewed by various senior ADL professionals, he phoned the Personnel Office, only to be told, “Sorry, we’re not hiring any aliens at this time.”  But he persisted, reminding them that his introduction was to President Stevenson.  He added that perhaps Stevenson might have some advice for how Derek should proceed.

Derek was invited back and spent over an hour with Earl Stevenson and Howard Billings, ADL’s then Treasurer.  During that time, Stevenson and Billings seemed to be far more interested in his WWII activities in the Royal Air Force than his qualifications as a Chemist.  Finally, Earl asked Howard to take Derek to Laurence Hervey’s basement office—Laurence was the leader of the Product Development Labs.  Howard, in his laconic manner, said to Laurence, “This is Derek Till.  You should hire him—he has no business being alive.”  This visit was on a Friday; Laurence asked Derek to start on Monday!

Client Assignments

Derek had several memorable client assignments.  For Oliver Machinery, who made label-production equipment, Derek and his team improvised a small unit to coat hot-melt adhesive onto label stock.  They then demonstrated the unit’s capabilities to a top client executive.  They proudly turned on the machine, and to their horror, it promptly went into reverse and dumped a large tray of hot liquid adhesive onto the floor!  Fortunately, the client knew the
ADLers well and eased their embarrassment by recounting an analogous experience he had with a big customer—he had cut his finger while demonstrating that the unit he was selling had no sharp edges!

Nabisco Project

In a project for Nabisco, ADL was asked to confirm that the company was the low-cost producer of cookies, particularly for their most important product, the Oreo.  The ADL-team’s final presentation to top management included a detailed analysis of the manufacturing process and manpower needs of the production line for the product that competed with the Oreo.  The client’s management team was amazed—how could ADL get this information without a plant visit, which they knew we would not do?  Well, a member of the ADL team, who happened to be visiting the city where the competitors’ plant was located, chanced on a local program on his hotel-room TV which showed a tour of the competitor’s plant, including the production line that made the product!  The ADL team obtained a copy of the tape and were able (at their leisure) to extract a lot of useful information.  How lucky can you be!


Today, Derek and his wife, Patricia, enjoy life at Carlton-Willard Homes, a “continuing care” community on 75 wooded acres in Bedford, MA.  He says there is a lot going on, both on- and off-campus, and they have made many interesting friends.  There are a number of ex-ADL’ers there, including Allan Sloan , Ed Cox, Fred Bird, and Caleb Warner.  Patricia heads up the local thespian activities, and Derek is active in helping to videotape the WWII experiences of the older residents, both military and civilian.  (Derek says that Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker, recently visited Carlton-Willard and gave them a talk about recording the past.)  Between them, Derek and Patricia have six children and seven grandchildren to keep track of—in places like Alaska and France.  Says Derek, “No such thing as a peaceful retirement!”