Lee R. Raymond
Chairman and CEO
Exxon Mobil Corporation
My first major academic interest was chemical engineering, which I studied as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin. I liked the subject so well that I decided to pursue a doctorate in it, but this time at the University of Minnesota. It was the top-ranked graduate school and also a bit closer to where I grew up in Watertown, South Dakota.
I've always been amused when people act surprised about where I grew up, since they seem to think that South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are like Siberia. But I'm proud of my roots. It's my feeling that people who come out of America's heartland have strong beliefs in fundamental values, in education, and in a commitment to do a good job.
Perhaps the thing that appealed most to me about being an engineer was a curiosity about how things are designed and built. I'm fascinated by technology and by the research that underpins the incredible technical advances we see all around us.
After getting my doctorate, I decided to take a research job with what was then the Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) because it seemed like a good way to quickly broaden my experience. At the time I joined Jersey, I thought I would eventually be returning to academic life. That was 40 years ago, and I just never made the trip back to academia.
One reason is that I found a company that both satisfied my curiosity and fulfilled my abiding interest in technology. I was able to work in a company committed to R&D, a place where I was exposed to stimulating colleagues and many areas of research and, above all, a place where what we worked on had practical applications of benefit to people. The experience has been exhilarating, and even though it's been a long time since I have been asked to do practical engineering, I am still drawn to being able to work in a place that puts technology at the forefront of its activities. I have also found management in the petroleum industry to be both challenging and rewarding. I derive my greatest sense of accomplishment from watching people develop and grow in competence, in seeing them take on difficult challenges and master them.
Of course, even though I am no longer a practicing engineer, I see many aspects of the energy business where the skills and perspectives of an engineer are vital. For example, I think I can sense the sorts of projects that are likely to be achievable and those that lie beyond what is doable, at least in the short to medium term. An engineering background also has helped in assessing areas of public policy where the science and technology that some people are enthusiastic about may not yet be mature enough to rely on and yet in other areas it is within reach.
A science and engineering background gives me enormous faith and confidence in the power of technology. No one who has lived their entire professional life in an industry like petroleum can escape a sense of awe at what has been achieved technically and at the benefits that have come from that technological power. My experiences have also given me a huge sense of optimism about the innovations we are likely to see in the future.