In 1975, Monroe "Jack" Rathbone was one of nineteen men from two centuries of American life chosen by the editors of Fortune Magazine for permanent membership in their Hall of Fame of Business Leadership. Included in the Hall of Fame were such famous names as George Washington, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and John D. Rockefeller.
Rathbone was born March 1, 1900 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. His middle name, Jack, came from his family's relation to the famous Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson. His father worked in a refinery for Jersey Standard Oil and was an important influence on Rathbone's interest in the petroleum industry. Rathbone served as a second lieutenant in the Army in WWI before graduating from Lehigh with a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1921. He was an accomplished student and achieved membership in the engineering honors society Tau Beta Pi.
Career at Standard Oil
Following graduation, Rathbone took a job as a design and drafting engineer at the Baton Rouge Refinery of the Standard Oil Company of Louisiana. The company made him plant manager in 1932. Over the course of twenty-three years with that company, Rathbone worked his way up through the general superintendent and management positions to become President of Louisiana Standard in 1936. The refinery grew tremendously and was credited with the first commercial scale butadiene from petroleum for the manufacture of synthetic rubber, as well as the first commercial production of butyl rubber. In addition, Rathbone was hailed for his contribution to developing the first fluid catalytic cracking unit which drastically increased the efficiency of the oil refining process.
Rathbone was appointed President of Esso Standard Oil when Louisiana Standard and Esso merged in 1944. His legacy as one of history's brilliant business leaders was solidified over the following two decades in which he pushed innovations in petroleum refining and met the massive military and civilian demands for petroleum products during WWII. In 1954, he was elected President of Jersey Standard and was named Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee. He was appointed CEO and Chairman of the Executive Committee in 1960, and was finally elected as Chairman of the Board in 1963. Under his leadership, Jersey Standard was reorganized into the Exxon Company and greatly increased its business internationally. This reorganization was one of the biggest in American business history and earned Rathbone world-wide recognition. His controversial policy of easing Exxon off of Middle Eastern oil dependence came long before the oil embargo and was later characterized as "perhaps the most important decision in the company's history." When Rathbone retired in 1965, Exxon was the world's largest oil company, had 200 affiliate companies in 100 nations, was producing one of every six barrels of oil in the world, and was earning $1.1 billion in profits annually.
Achievements and Recognition
Rathbone's dedication to his alma mater remained strong throughout his life. From 1949 until 1973, he served on Lehigh's Board of Trustees and was Chairman from 1957-1973, during which time the university experienced its greatest educational and physical expansion in its 100 year history. In 1954, Lehigh awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering and in 1972 Rathbone Dining Hall was dedicated in his honor. Rathbone served on several boards, including the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Bethlehem Steel, Prudential Insurance, and was chair of the Deafness Research Foundation. He received numerous awards throughout his career, including the American Petroleum Institute Gold Medal for Achievement, the oil industry's highest award, and several international knighthoods. He passed away in 1976 at the age of seventy-six.