Rawleigh Warner, the Mobil Oil chairman and chief executive who took corporate image-management to a new level through company sponsorship of “Masterpiece Theater” on public television and paid opinion pieces that appeared in U.S. newspapers, died June 26 in Hobe Sound, Fla. He was 92.
The cause was complications from inclusion body myositis, a progressive muscle disease, according to a death notice in the New York Times.
As chairman and chief executive of Mobil from 1969 to 1986 and president from 1965 to 1969, the finance-minded Mr. Warner led the company, then based in New York, as it overtook rivals to become second in sales behind Exxon. (The companies merged in 1999.) He had a hand in all facets of Mobil’s operations, from its oil production around the world to its logo and cultural sponsorships.
With his successor as president, William Tavoulareas, Mr. Warner made Mobil a leading recipient of crude oil from Saudi Arabia while also increasing production in North America through the purchases of domestic reserves, according to the Times obituary of Tavoulareas in 1996. In 1979, Mr. Warner took home $4.3 million and Tavoulareas $2.3 million; they were among just 33 U.S. executives who earned more than $1 million, according to Time magazine.
In the 1970s, under Mr. Warner and his vice president for public affairs, Herb Schmertz, Mobil began sponsoring “Masterpiece Theatre” on PBS, a relationship that ran until 2004.
In 1970, after the Times opened its op-ed page to paid advertising, Mr. Warner directed Schmertz to give Mobil a voice in public affairs through what became known as advocacy advertising. By 1975, according to a Times story, Mobil’s op-ed ads were appearing every week in the Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Globe.
Mobil’s high profile reflected its chairman’s belief that big business needed to stand up to criticism, Newsweek reported in 1976.
“My worry is that I don’t see many other people responding as we have,” Mr. Warner said, according to Newsweek. “I think it’s wrong for business to hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over.”
Not every element of Mr. Warner’s growth strategy was a success. In 1985, one year before he stepped down at 65, Mobil shed money-losing retailer Montgomery Ward, which it had acquired nine years earlier.
After his retirement, Mr. Warner served on the board of American Express and started the ultimately successful effort to oust James Robinson as chief executive.
Rawleigh Warner Jr. was born Feb. 13, 1921, in Chicago. His father was chairman of Pure Oil Co.
Mr. Warner graduated in 1943 from Princeton University and then served in the Army in Italy during World War II.
In 1946, the year of his discharge from the service, he married Mary Ann de Clairmont. They raised their family in New Canaan, Conn., in a house designed for them by modernist architect John Johansen that is cited on the Web site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Mr. Warner spent much of his early career at Socony — the Standard Oil Co. of New York. He managed Socony’s Middle East department and was named a regional vice president of Mobil International Oil, a Socony division. He became president of the renamed Socony Mobil Oil Co. in 1965. It became Mobil a year later.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Warner’s survivors include two daughters; two sisters; four grandchildren; and four great-grandsons, according to the death notice.