John E. Swearingen | Legacy of Leadership Profile

John E. Swearingen (1918–2007)

John E. Swearingen retired as chairman of the board of directors of Standard Oil Company (Indiana), now BP–Amoco Corporation, on his 65th birthday anniversary, September 7, 1983, after 44 years of service.

He became company chairman in 1965, after having served as president since 1958, chief executive officer since 1960, and as a director since 1952. In 1939, at the age of 20, he had joined Standard as a chemical engineer in research.

As chief executive officer for 23 years, Swearingen emphasized careful planning for the long term. He built a respected organization of people and, with their help, streamlined operations, coordinated marketing, accounting, and sales practices, expanded Standard's domestic and foreign exploration, refining, and marketing of oil and natural gas, and built Standard's chemical operations into nearly a $3 billion business.

In 1983, Standard's revenues were $29.8 billion, net income was $1.8 billion, and net assets at year's end were $25.8 billion. Standard ranked as one of the largest United States industrial companies.

In 1984, a year after his retirement from Amoco, Swearingen was named chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Continental Illinois Corporation after the Continental Illinois Bank failed and was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.    

He retired as an officer of Continental in 1987 but not before persuading the vice chairman of Citicorp—six times larger than Continental—to take his place. At the time, the Chicago Tribune wrote, "In landing one of the nation's most savvy banking leaders to succeed him, John E. Swearingen may be leaving one of his greatest legacies to the city." Swearingen retired as a Continental board member in 1989.    

John Eldred Swearingen was born September 7, 1918, in Columbia, the son of John E. and Mary Hough Swearingen. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1938 with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering. In 1939, he received a master of science degree from Carnegie–Mellon University. He has been awarded honorary degrees by 15 colleges and universities, among them the University of South Carolina and Carnegie–Mellon.    

He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame, the Chicago Business Hall of Fame, and the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame, and he is a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He has been decorated by the governments of Egypt, Italy, and Iran.    

In 1987, the University of South Carolina's new College of Engineering facility was dedicated as the John E. Swearingen Engineering Center. The Swearingen Engineering Complex has more than 500,000 square feet of state-of-the-art technology, equipment, and laboratory space and is one of the largest engineering facilities in the Southeast.    

Swearingen was presented the Herbert Hoover Humanitarian Award by the Boy Scouts of America in 1980, the Charles F. Rand Memorial Gold Medal by the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical & Petroleum Engineers in 1980, the Washington Award by the Western Society of Engineers in 1981, and the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement by the American Petroleum Institute in 1983.    

Swearingen served as chairman of the National Petroleum Council in 1974 and 1975 and was chairman of the board of the American Petroleum Institute in 1978 and 1979. He is a director of the Organization Resources Counselors, Inc. He has served at various times as a director of Aon Corporation, Lockheed Corporation, Sara Lee Corporation, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, Chase Manhattan Corporation, First Chicago Corporation, American National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, and McGraw Wildlife Foundation. He has also served as a trustee of Depauw University.    

Swearingen is a life trustee of Carnegie–Mellon University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and is a former chairman and member of the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago.    

Swearingen and his wife, the former Bonnie Bolding, reside in Chicago, where both are active in civic affairs. He is the father of three daughters, Marcia Pfleeger, Sally Origer, and Linda Arnold. 

He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1988. 

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame

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