WASHINGTON — 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 US newspapers, has died. He was 92.
He died Wednesday in Hobe Sound, Fla., according to a death notice in the New York Times. The cause was complications from the progressive muscle disease known as inclusion body myositis.
As chairman and chief executive from 1969 to 1986, and president from 1965 to 1969, the finance-minded Mr. Warner led Mobil, then based in New York, as it overtook rivals to become second in sales behind Exxon Corp., years before the two companies merged. He had a hand in all facets of Mobil’s operations, from its oil production around the world to its redesigned 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 New York Times obituary of Tavoulareas in 1996. (In 1979, Mr. Warner took home $4.3 million and Tavoulareas $2.3 million, and were among just 33 US executives who earned more than $1 million, according to Time magazine.)
Mr. Warner was credited with instilling an emphasis on asset management and financial stewardship, which weren’t then typical of oil companies. According to the death notice, he considered his chief legacy to have been developing young executives for corporate leadership positions.
In 1966, early in Mr. Warner’s tenure as president, Mobil revised its logo, removing the red Pegasus featured for 35 years in favor of the word Mobil in blue lettering except for the letter O, in red.
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 to 2004.
In 1970, after The New York 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 Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, 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 age 65, Mobil shed money-losing retailer Montgomery Ward, which it had acquired nine years earlier.
Following his retirement in 1986, Mr. Warner served on the board of American Express Co. and started the ultimately successful effort to oust James Robinson as chief executive.
In December 1999, Exxon bought Mobil for $85.2 billion in stock in what was then the biggest takeover. The merger formed Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., today the world’s largest company by market value.