By James R. Hagerty
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (May 26, 2018).
When Texaco Inc. reported that its first-quarter profit in 1979 was up 81% from a year earlier, the oil company's chief executive, Maurice F. "Butch" Granville, was almost apologetic. "By any logical standard, our earnings are not excessive," he said, and the return on equity was below average for manufacturing firms.
Running a big U.S. oil company in the 1970s wasn't much fun. Foreign governments were nationalizing oil fields formerly controlled by the international oil giants. Oil prices were gyrating. Periodic shortages ignited anger and near panic as drivers waited hours in line at gas stations. Critics accused the oil companies of profiting on the public's misery. Some politicians wanted to break up the big oil firms to spur competition.
"He came back from work on more than one occasion just sort of shaking his head," recalled his son, Frederick Granville.
It wasn't all bad. Mr. Granville, Texaco's CEO from 1972 to 1980, in 1975 was ranked by Forbes as the sixth highest-paid U.S. executive with total compensation of $672,000 (around $3.1 million today, adjusted for inflation). He hired Bob Hope as a pitchman for Texaco, and they became golfing buddies.
Mr. Granville died May 14 at his home in Rockport, Maine. He was 102.
Texaco's star-shaped logo dotted highways and its TV ads urged drivers to "trust your car to the man who wears the star." It was the second-largest U.S. oil company in the mid-1970s but slipped to No. 3 behind Mobil Oil Co. by the end of the decade. In 2001, Chevron Corp. acquired Texaco for $38 billion.
In the 1970s, oil company CEOs suddenly became public figures and struggled to find a message that would redeem them in the eyes of Americans outraged that cheap gasoline, once considered almost a birthright, was history.
Mr. Granville, a Texas native, scoffed at claims that Big Oil had contrived to create shortages and jack up profits. He called on the government to pay for strategic reserves of oil "so that our economy cannot be crippled in time of emergency."
He deplored a "bureaucratic maze of regulations" imposed on the industry. "What is really needed," he said in 1974, "is for the government to remove obstacles and establish a more favorable economic climate for the production of indigenous fuels."
Texaco also sought to assuage Arab oil suppliers angry about U.S. support for Israel. In a 1973 speech, Mr. Granville called on Americans "to review the actions of their government in regard to the Arab-Israeli dispute and to compare these actions with its stated position of support for peaceful settlement responsive to the concerns of all the countries involved."
Public speeches and earnest newspaper ads weren't enough to win public support. Mr. Granville announced in 1975 that Mr. Hope had signed a three-year contract to appear in Texaco-sponsored TV programs. "Bob Hope will help us keep the American people informed as to what we are doing to help solve the nation's energy problems," Mr. Granville said.
He was proud of breaking the male monopoly on Texaco board seats by recruiting Lorene Rogers, who was president of the University of Texas at Austin, to the board in 1976.
Maurice Frederick Granville Jr. was born Oct. 26, 1915, in La Grange, Texas. His father ran a cotton-oil mill. Friends gave the younger Mr. Granville the nickname Butch, and it stuck for life. He played football and basketball in high school, and sometimes rode a horse to school.
At the University of Texas, he earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1937. Two years later, he received a master's in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His 41-year career at Texaco began with a job at a refinery in Montana. During World War II, the company seconded him to the federal government's Petroleum Administration for War. His job was to help oil refiners adopt technology to increase efficiency in producing aviation fuel.
In New York, he met Janet Knotts, who had worked as a fashion magazine editor and air-raid warden. They married in 1945.
After he retired in 1980, Mr. Granville and his wife had homes in Rockport, Maine, and Key Largo, Fla. They were enthusiasts of fishing and golf. Mrs. Granville died in 2014.
Mr. Granville was a fixture at the Megunticook Golf Club in Rockport, where he golfed until his early 90s and was known as a raconteur. He is survived by a sister, two children, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
He loved what his family called "outrageous" puns. One favorite joke: "A toothless termite walked into a bar and said, 'Is the bar tender here?'"
Write to James R. Hagerty at [email protected]