EXXON'S AXMAN COMETH Mighty Exxon can ride out the collapse in oil prices and may be able to snap up cheap reserves. But Lawrence G. Rawl, heir apparent to the C.E.O., vows to cut costs and is eyeing a mammoth bureaucracy that, he complains, ''has been in place about 20 years.''
By Colin Leinster RESEARCH ASSOCIATE Cynthia Hutton

(FORTUNE Magazine) – LAWRENCE G. RAWL, 57, loves to fish. His biggest catch: a nine-foot, 200-pound sailfish snared off Acapulco. He is also a crack shot at birds, such as doves and quail. As his next zoological triumph, Rawl says he is aiming to ''teach the elephant to dance'' -- the elephant being jumbo Exxon Corp., where Rawl, elected president a year ago, is expected to take over as chief executive in December. For a pachyderm as mammoth as Exxon, the dancing lessons clearly demand tough spring training, some of which the company has already begun. In March, with oil prices still slumping and OPEC in disarray (see box), Exxon slashed capital spending by almost $3 billion, to $8 billion. The cuts mean a dramatic retrenchment in exploration. On the heels of that move, Exxon began a major restructuring designed to trim its international operations. Six separate overseas subsidiaries will be reduced to one. The company will also bring most of its coal and other mining interests under a single umbrella. As Clifton C. Garvin Jr., 64, Exxon's C.E.O., explained in announcing the changes, ''The recent sharp drop in crude oil prices has intensified the need for the reexamination of all aspects of the company's operations.'' The big question inside Exxon now is what the reorganization will mean to the company's worldwide head count of 145,000. Rawl isn't saying, but the prospect of shaking people up does not rattle him. His operating style, he brags, is treading on toes: ''That's my M.O.'' Like most top Exxon executives, he has been essentially invisible to the outside world during his 34-year climb up the corporate ladder. Inside the company, however, Rawl has earned a reputation as a waste cutter and head chopper. ''The current structure of the Exxon Corp. has been in place for about 20 years,'' he complains. With the restructuring of international operations under way, he will turn next to Exxon's corporate headquarters in New York ! City, where, he says, ''We still have things to do.'' One of his targets is likely to be the layers of middle managers who serve at the beck and call of Exxon's management committee, the eight-man group of inside directors including Rawl and Garvin that sifts budgets, approves spending, and generally governs the company as a cabal. Says Rawl: ''We blithely say, 'Gee, I'd like to see those numbers.' Next thing, you find out you've got 1,000 people in the queue getting them . . . But do we need all that information? Do we use it?'' Says Rawl: ''I'm bottom line oriented. I look at the revenues, and then I look at everything that comes in between. When I find something that looks a little bit soft, I take a hard look. When the good times are rolling, you can ignore some of that stuff. But when times get difficult, you've got to do something.'' In fact, he concedes, ''you should do it anyway. That's management. That's what shareholders pay us for.'' Exxon's shareholders have been getting their money's worth. Earnings per share have outperformed the industry average, and the stock price has been enhanced by a buyback of shares launched in 1983. The company saw the error of its major 1970s diversification and opted to get back into its core energy business. Unlike most of its major competitors, Exxon today has relatively low debt, 21% of total capital. It's flush with cash and rich in reserves worldwide.

The company's muscular balance sheet amounts to a handful of aces in an industry boxed in by the recent 50% drop in the price of crude oil. Some of Exxon's announced cutbacks in exploration are merely ''deferrals,'' Rawl says, until prices recover. Until then, he will concentrate on making Exxon the most efficient in the business, not only in oil and gas but also in coal and minerals. Meanwhile, savings from exploration cutbacks and the money it has in hand put the company in an enviable position to snap up more oil reserves, or the companies that own them, at bargain prices. Rawl playfully sketches a scenario of how such acquisitions might come about: ''Miss a few interest payments on some big debt, bankers ought to be getting pretty nervous about that kind of stuff. Us having the wherewithal to step in when somebody's in trouble and saying, 'Hey, I'd like to embrace you!' I'd be delighted to help somebody that way.'' Rawl likes to talk in a down-home, folksy way, and his accent is Western drawl, particularly when he spins fishing yarns. But that accent is an acquisition, too. He was raised in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the fifth of six children in an Irish-American family. His father worked for Railway Express Agency, first as a truck driver, then in a ''green eyeshade and a couple of rubber bands round his sleeves type of job.'' As a high schooler, Rawl earned extra money pumping gas at a local Esso -- now Exxon -- service station. He still pumps gas today, preferring to top off his tank at self-serve islands and to swab and squeegee his windshield himself. In 1945, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, eventually making sergeant. ''That was one of my prouder accomplishments,'' he says, ''but it was because I was a technician. It didn't have anything to do with my leadership ability.'' After his discharge he decided to head for Oklahoma. He found a job in the oil fields, ''a grimy, good physical job, which was what I was qualified to do.'' Then he enrolled on the GI bill as an engineering student at the University of Oklahoma. Like most of his fellow petroleum engineering students, Rawl was sought after as graduation approached by recruiters from nearly a dozen oil companies. One offer was from a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey, which was to evolve into Exxon. He turned it down flat. ''I knew I didn't want to work for the world's biggest oil company. You couldn't get ahead,'' he says. Instead, he went to work for Humble Oil of Texas, believing it to be an independent. Only after signing on did he learn that Humble was 70% owned by Standard. Humble became wholly integrated into Standard in 1959. Rawl's first post was an exploration camp in South Texas, 40 miles from the nearest dot on the map. It didn't take him long to start treading on toes. As a drilling engineer, he had responsibility for production at half a dozen rigs. After a month on the job, he presumed to tell a driller how to drill. ''This guy was about 60 years old, a grizzled old guy. He told me he'd been in the oil fields a couple of weeks himself. I said, 'If you want to be here a couple more weeks, do what I tell you.' '' Rawl's supervisor subsequently called him in and said: ''I understand you've been giving orders to people.'' ''So what?'' said Rawl. ''Who's in charge out there, me or the driller?'' ''I am,'' said the supervisor, who told Rawl to ease off. Says Rawl: ''I kind of felt it was fun to be aggressive.'' When he wasn't satisfying his aggressiveness in the oil fields, Rawl went ( hunting and took an occasional trip to town. On one such trip he had a blind date, ''and it turned out that I married her.'' Larry and Betty Rawl soon embarked on a nomadic life, with each of a dozen moves marked by a slight increase in responsibility -- and, on four occasions, in the number of Rawl progeny. The first of their children was born in Corpus Christi. Six years later, by which time they were living in Kingsville, Texas, Rawl rushed his expectant wife to the hospital. She was diagnosed as having false labor pains, so he took her home again. ''She woke me up about one in the morning, raising hell, hollering like the devil. The baby started to arrive, and I assisted.'' After he had wrapped it up in a bed sheet, his wife asked, ''Is it a boy or a girl?'' ''Hell, I don't know,'' Rawl replied, ''I haven't had time to figure that out.'' It was a girl. Two years later, when the Rawls were back in Corpus Christi, false labor pains were diagnosed again, and the doctor suggested Rawl take his wife home. ''To hell with that,'' Rawl said with a midwife's confidence. Their first son arrived ten minutes later. IN 1960 RAWL was transferred to New York headquarters to evaluate overseas exploration plans. In no time he clinched the reputation he had been gathering for himself in the boonies: he was tough-minded, but a good listener. According to Richard J. Kruizenga, Exxon's head of corporate planning, he has one of ''the best smoke detectors ever.'' Past superiors cite his ability to cut right to the nub of any issue. But he didn't always do it gracefully. He was prone to argue with his bosses and on occasion to be somewhat obstinate. ''I've threatened to quit a number of times,'' he says. ''Usually over nothing. But usually because I didn't want to be suppressed.'' He believes that in the past ten years or so, Exxon has become more open to frank discussion. ''There was a time when it wasn't the thing to do. But I've always felt like it was incumbent on people to contribute all they can contribute. You shouldn't hold it against them if what they say is not too relevant.'' Rawl insists that as president he invites subordinates to challenge him. He does admit, though, to one advantage of his current position: ''Arguments don't last as long.'' After a mere seven months in New York, he was back in Texas at the request of Dale Wooddy, a former boss, who wanted him to help Humble and Standard to consolidate. He stayed in Houston for another six years, working in corporate ) planning and production. In 1967 he returned to New York as executive assistant to Michael L. Haider, then Exxon's chairman. The position has traditionally served as a hot seat for hot performers on their way up. ''Up'' in his case meant another move to Houston, where over the next nine years he rose to be executive vice president of Exxon USA, the biggest subsidiary. By the late 1970s top management noticed that he had had every experience save one: an overseas assignment. In 1978 C.E.O. Garvin sent Rawl to London as No. 2 for Esso Europe, a huge operation that also includes Africa. Rawl's blunt ways, like his habit of throwing off his coat and propping his feet on polished desktops, startled his European associates at first. But they soon came to accept his style and even like it, recalls Richard G. Reid, his boss then. Meeting outsiders presented a more difficult problem, especially in countries such as Greece where byzantine preliminary conversation is the norm. Here Rawl learned to reel in his natural impatience, though it was obvious to Reid that it was an effort. ''He'd twitch. Chew on an unlit cigar. Sit forward on the front of his chair and squeeze his knuckles. But he did it.'' The Rawls slipped comfortably into European life. He adapted well to the British pub tradition, drinking Scotch whisky and standing his fair share of rounds. In Scotland, Ireland, and Norway, he found great salmon fishing. In suburban London, where they lived, Mrs. Rawl became well known to the local constabulary thanks to her predilection for parking her Cadillac on the sidewalk. Rawl's own automotive misadventure did not become a matter of public record. He bought a used Jaguar sedan that was, says former boss Reid, ''a dog. An absolute dog.'' Rawl was so ashamed of being taken, says Reid, that he kept the car in his garage for much of his two-year stint trying to fix it himself. Says Rawl of the experience, ''It was great therapy.'' BACK IN NEW YORK in 1980, Rawl served four years as a senior vice president and director of the company. But he was still only one candidate for the job of president. At that time the position was held by Howard C. Kauffmann. Only two years younger than Garvin, Kauffmann never had a shot at the top job, insiders now say. In 1985 Kauffmann stepped down, and Rawl was chosen to take his place. About the most significant criticism of Rawl comes from a former colleague who is now an executive at another oil company. ''Larry needs additional ^ experience in the financial arena. As chairman, he will have to brush up in this area.'' Perhaps surprisingly, Chairman Garvin is not particularly fulsome in his praise of Rawl. While outside directors and former top managers at the company heap compliments upon the man, Garvin points out that much of the current strategy of restructuring the company predates Rawl's presidency. Garvin is quick to add that the board hasn't elected Rawl C.E.O. yet. Rawl dodges the issue, too: ''I don't see any sense in talking about it. I don't want to preempt anybody's decision-making process.'' Besides, this experienced downsizer adds, with Western drawl at full throttle, ''I may have one of those jobs that we find out we don't need to fill.'' BOX: INVEATOR'S SNAPSHOT EXXON SALES (LATEST FOUR QUARTERS) $88.0 BILLION CHANGE FROM YEAR EARLIER DOWN 4% NET PROFIT $4.9 BILLION CHANGE DOWN 12% RETURN ON COMMON STOCHHOLDERS' EQUITY 17% FIVE YEAR AVERAGE 18% RECENT SHARE PRICE $55.75 PRICE/EARNINGS MULTIPLE 9 TOTAL RETURN TO INVESTORS (12 MONTHS TO 3/14) 20% PRINCIPAL MARKET NYSE