Philadelphia business leader, long a resident, becomes a citizen

Pierre Brondeau recites the Pledge of Allegiance with other new Americans during citizenship ceremonies.
Pierre Brondeau recites the Pledge of Allegiance with other new Americans during citizenship ceremonies. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 20, 2011

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

 Or then again, this is 2011: Just send Pierre Brondeau.

In this modern-day immigrant's tale, one of Philadelphia's top businessmen, Brondeau, washed up on America's shores Monday - OK, in reality, he walked the eight or so blocks from his office at 17th and Market Streets to the immigration offices at 16th and Callowhill - to complete his 25-year journey to American citizenship.

Brondeau is a fixture in the region's highest rank of corporate leaders, the former No. 2 executive at storied Rohm & Haas before it was acquired by Michigan-based Dow Chemical in 2009. He's handsomely compensated, a golfer, and on Sunday ran the Philadelphia Half-Marathon in 1 hour, 49 minutes.

Now he's the chief executive officer and chairman of FMC Corp., one of the largest publicly traded companies still headquartered in Center City.

But on this day, he was as buoyant as a little kid as he strode past the soaring Comcast Center.

"It's my country," he said. "I want to vote. I want to live here. This is where I want to be. Philadelphia. I don't think people realize how great the city is. The nightlife. You can go to Rittenhouse Square and think you're in Paris. . . . It's a very large city, but it remains a town. It's my place."

His children were texting him congratulations. He was thinking about how he would tease his family and friends in France. "I'm gonna say: 'You French people. You never work. You're always on vacation.' "

It had been a long journey from his childhood in southern France to the time, about 1:30 p.m., that Brondeau took his place in a line of citizens-to-be that snaked around the brick U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices.

Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. Dressed in a gray-striped suit and white shirt, no tie, Brondeau seemed conspicuous only in that he was an older European man among the 66 people from 34 countries.

On one side of Brondeau was Lorenny Perez, 18, of the Dominican Republic. "I wanted the right to vote. . . . My mom brought me here when I was 10."

Nina Delahanty, 37, came to the United States from Sweden as an au pair to learn English, met a guy, and stayed. "I'm married and I have three boys and it's time to become a citizen," she said. "I want to be part of the society." She was there with her husband, John, who is being deployed to Afghanistan in three weeks.

Sam Akula, 32, of India, said during the ceremony that he had been trying to get his citizenship since the 1990s. "It really just took this long," he said with a smile. His wife and young child were there with him.

Brondeau, 54, grasped his paperwork. He had arrived in the United States in the early 1980s on a work visa. Rising through the executive ranks at the Philadelphia chemical company Rohm & Haas, Brondeau obtained a green card, which bestowed on him the status of a permanent resident.

But Brondeau felt he should take the leap to citizenship. He had married an American, Melissa, and they have two sons. They live in Gladwyne. FMC is a major chemical company, traded on Wall Street. He's often doing business in Washington. "A green card gives you the rights Americans have, except you can't vote," Brondeau explained. "I want to be part of the election process."

He had delayed because he feared the U.S. citizenship process would be too cumbersome, too bureaucratic, too . . . French. He was encouraged after he spoke to FMC's corporate counsel and began the quest in earnest in June. Brondeau had an interview with an immigration official, was fingerprinted and photographed, and then tested. Last Wednesday, he learned he had passed.

It was 2 p.m. and the citizenship ceremony was moving along now. Immigration Services Officer James Graham checked everyone's paperwork one final time. The citizens-to-be were shown a video called "Faces of America" that talked about the nation's immigrant history, which is sometimes defined by the Emma Lazarus poem that talks of the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

A notable new citizen, Brondeau was asked to speak. "There is not a more generous country than America," he said. "The 66 of us here today are very, very lucky."


Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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