The Multinational Monitor



To the editor:

Lawrence Rawl fully deserved to be named Multinational Monitor's Corporate Miscreant of 1989.

It is tragic enough that the spill of 11 million gallons of crude oil from the Exxon Valdez tanker into Alaska's Prince William's Sound happened on Rawl's watch. But Rawl's intransigent insistence on disclaiming personal or corporate responsibility for Valdez is now studied at business schools around the country as an example of how not to act as a chief executive officer confronted by a corporate crisis.

Exxon took twice as long to begin cleanup operations than its own operating manual indicated it should. Then Rawl did the honorable thing: he blamed state and Coast Guard officials for the delay in the cleanup.

It is not surprising, then, that in a Louis Harris poll taken after the spill almost 70 percent of Americans believed that Rawl and Exxon failed to demonstrate leadership by taking responsibility for the Valdez disaster.

As a shareholder in Exxon corporation, I attended Exxon's annual meeting for shareholders held on May 18, 1989 in Parsippany, New Jersey. I wanted to see what Lawrence Rawl does to earn his compensation of $1.3 million per year (plus benefits) for running the world's largest corporation; I primarily was interested in Rawl's personal commitment to the environment in the light of Valdez.

Here was our exchange:

MAYER: I agree with your earlier statement that good deeds are important ... So I'd like to ask you for a good deed today. Would you be willing to take 10 percent of your shares that you personally own to put into a fund to improve tanker safety in the future? ... Let me put the question this way: I'll put up 10 percent of my shares if you will, Mr. Rawl.

[Rawl, at last count, owns 143,140 shares, having market value of approximately $7.7 million; I own considerably fewer shares.]

RAWL: ... You can have the world's safest tanker and in fact it's a difficult problem when you get human error ... but thank you a whole lot for your suggestion but your deal doesn't please me a whole lot.

MAYER: Will you do a deal where I'll give 10 percent of my shares, and you give 1 percent of your shares?

RAWL: I'm not doing any deals. You're obviously here to interrupt. We have some people that have sensible questions they want to ask and I'm going to move on.

[Rawl then recognized a man who made a fifteen minute speech on topics ranging from the Titanic to a 1930 fire in Asbury Park, NJ; no question was asked. This pattern was repeated throughout the meeting: difficult questions were ignored; pointless speeches encouraged.]

Since the 1989 meeting, Lawrence Rawl's deeds have hardly demonstrated a concern for the environment. On January 1, 1990, a ruptured Exxon pipe spilled 567,000 gallons of heating oil into the Arthur Kill, a narrow tidal strait between New Jersey and Staten Island. The accident destroyed an important bird sanctuary, killing over 200 birds.

The pipe's leak detection system had been broken for 12 years and Exxon initially underestimated the size of the spill and delayed notifying the Coast Guard. This prompted New Jersey's governor to charge: "What made the spill all the more galling was the apparent incompetence, and, yes, the arrogance, that caused the problem."

Several shareholders, including myself, have proposed various resolutions to require Rawl and Exxon management to incorporate a concern for the environment into the corporation's operations. Rawl has instructed his attorneys to attempt to keep these proposals from reaching a vote of shareholders in 1990.

He may or may not succeed. But by his deeds, he certainly has positioned himself as the favorite for the Monitor's 1990 corporate miscreant award.

Carl Mayer,
New York City

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