If 1974 was an uncertain year for the economy as a whole, it was a time of complete upheaval for the oil industry. Faced with the wrenching consequences of Arab embargoes and production cutbacks, oilmen nevertheless pushed their profits to record levels. None was more successful than Exxon’s chairman and chief executive officer, John Kenneth Jamieson, who truly has a tiger by the tail as head of the world’s largest oil company—and seems to relish it. For two straight years Exxon, second in size only to GM, racked up the biggest profits of any American corporation—$2.3 billion in the first nine months of 1974 alone. Jamieson, 64, will be rewarded this year with well over $600,000 in salary and bonuses.
Among heads of the “Seven Sisters” of oil—Exxon, Royal Dutch/Shell, Texaco, Mobil, Gulf, Standard of California and British Petroleum—Jamieson is uniquely qualified. An MIT-educated engineer, he is at home on a rig as well as in the boardroom. Born a Canadian (and now a naturalized American), Jamieson was raised in the remote village of Medicine Hat, Alberta. His father, 97, is the oldest surviving member of the Royal North-West Mounted Police. During his frontier boyhood, Ken Jamieson remembers shooting a bear that had wandered onto family property. After graduation from college in 1931, he prospected for a while, and later went to work in a small refinery in Moose Jaw, Sask. He was soon running it. After World War II, Jamieson was brought into Imperial Oil, the Canadian subsidiary of Standard (renamed Exxon in 1972).
Today Jamieson, who assumed the chairmanship in 1969, runs the $30 billion-a-year multinational from a spacious 51st-floor Manhattan office dotted with Eskimo sculpture. On a coffee table sits a red velvet-covered box containing a silver cigarette set—a gift from the late President Sukarno of Indonesia, where Exxon has wells.
Jamieson’s most time-consuming task, he concedes, is polishing Exxon’s image. It was tarnished last January during Senator Henry Jackson’s hearings into the oil shortage, especially when Exxon vice-president Roy Baze was caught napping, unable to remember Exxon’s per-share dividends. Jamieson has since ruled no one can speak for Exxon without his prior approval.
“Energy is a commodity that is only now rising to the price where it belongs,” Jamieson maintains in a surprisingly mellifluous voice, “but people just don’t understand this.” On the issue of large profits—the industry claims they are needed to fund exploration—he laments that people are even less sympathetic. But, insists Jamieson, “We’re making slow, steady progress.” After returning to New York recently from a seminar at Yale, he received a letter saying that he could now claim “at least” 10 converts. “A hard way to get 10 converts,” he said of the two-and-a-half-day meeting, “but if that’s what it takes…”
When not out image-building, Jamieson gardens with his wife, Ethel, in Mamaroneck, fishes for salmon at New Brunswick’s ultra-exclusive (membership fee: $25,000-a-year) Ristigouche Club and improves his 14 handicap at golf. In fact, he has already bought a home just off the ninth fairway at a country club in the city where he intends to settle after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 next August. Palm Beach, Fla.? Palm Springs, Calif.? Not a chance. Consummate oilman that he is, Jamieson will be returning to that black-gold boom town: Houston.