H. Eugene McBrayer

Born: January 19, 1932 | Birmingham, AL, US

McBrayer discusses his studies in chemical engineering at Vanderbilt University and his career at Exxon, eventually becoming president of the corporation. During his years at Exxon Chemical, McBrayer was heavily involved in environmental issues; he helped to set up Clean Sites, Inc. and has been active in the Chemical Manufacturers Association Responsible Care program. In 1992, the same year that he was awarded the Chemical Industry Medal, McBrayer retired from Exxon Chemical. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0144
No. of pages: 41
Minutes: 127

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
11 May 1995
Mercer Island, Washington

Abstract of Interview

Eugene McBrayer begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and early education in Birmingham, Alabama. His father was a small gasoline distributor for Amoco, and McBrayer helped with the business. His parents encouraged him to treat his education seriously, so he spent much of his time studying. This work paid off when he was offered an academic scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Though he had intended to study metallurgy, McBrayer soon became a chemical engineering major, earning his B.S. in 1954. The summer between his junior and senior years was spent working for Exxon's Baton Rouge, Louisiana refinery, and McBrayer decided that he wanted to work for Exxon after graduation. Because of his high grades and previous good work, he received an offer from Exxon, which he accepted. He moved quickly through the management ranks and, in 1964, was sent to New York City to work for Exxon Enterprises. In 1979, he moved again, to Exxon Chemical Corporation, becoming Vice President. Six years later, he became President and began to restructure the company. During his years at Exxon Chemical, McBrayer was heavily involved in environmental issues; he helped to set up Clean Sites, Inc. and has been active in the Chemical Manufacturers Association Responsible Care program. In 1992, the same year that he was awarded the Chemical Industry Medal, McBrayer retired from Exxon Chemical. McBrayer concludes the interview with his hopes for the future of the chemical industry. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1954 Vanderbilt University BS Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

Esso Standard Oil Company

1953
Junior Chemical Engineer, Baton Rouge Refinery
1954 to 1955
Chemical Engineer, Process Engineering Department, Baton Rouge Refinery
1955 to 1957
Supervisor, Chemical Technical Service, Baton Rouge Refinery
1957 to 1959
Division Foreman, Baton Rouge Refinery
1959 to 1962
Assistant Division Head, Technical Division, Baton Rouge Refinery
1962
Head, Technical Division, Baton Rouge Refinery
1963
Head, Operating Division, Baton Rouge, Refinery

Humble Oil & Refining Company

1963 to 1964
Head, Refinery Coordination Department

Exxon Research and Engineering Company

1964 to 1965
Assistant Manager, New Investments Department
1965 to 1977
President, Exxon Enterprises
1977 to 1979
Chief Executive Officer, Exxon Nuclear Company
1979 to 1986
Executive Vice President, Exxon Chemical Company
1986 to 1992
President, Exxon Chemical Company
1992
Retired, Exxon Chemical Company

Honors

Year(s) Award
1992

Chemical Industry Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. Father's career in gasoline distribution. Influence of parents. Importance of education.

College Years
3

Scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Decision to study chemical engineering. Summer work at Exxon's Baton Rouge Refinery.

Early Career
5

Returning to Exxon. Decision not to pursue advanced degree. Rapid advancement at Baton Rouge Refinery. Competition at Exxon. Division of Exxon's chemical company from oil company.

Research and Development
12

Clinton facility. Attempts to increase R&D at Exxon. Importance of researchers. Encouraging innovation.

Diversification of Exxon
18

Moving to New York. Development of Vydec and low-cost fax machine. Exxon Nuclear Company. Belief in nuclear energy. Exploring uranium. Work with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Public disenchantment with nuclear energy. Importance of diversification.

Later Career
21

Working with Edwin Holmer. Matrix management system. Involvement in Chemical Manufacturers Association. Development of Responsible Care. Organizing Clean Sites, Inc. Environmental work with the Conservation Foundation.

Conclusion
31

Retirement. Involvement with Hercules. Final thoughts on the chemical industry.

Notes
37
Index
38

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.