Alumni Spotlight: Tom Gillette ’52

Tom Gillette ‘52 was in the second class to spend four years at Webb in Glen Cove. The Webb Administrator was Admiral S. M. Robinson, the only USN Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) to achieve four-star rank. Over three decades (1915-45) Robinson was a mentor of Tom’s father, Claude Gillette, the Manager of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard (1939-42) where Tom witnessed the December 7, 1941 attack. Promoted to Rear Admiral, Tom’s father in 1943-45 was in charge of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS). Having known many graduates during his career, he encouraged Tom to apply to Webb.

During the Korean War, for three years Tom applied his Webb background as a Navy EDO at PSNS, first on ship repairs/conversions and later, in the Planning Department, setting priority lists, monitoring work progress and trouble-shooting problems. Jobs included installing the first steam catapults on a U.S. aircraft carrier and mothballing the USS Missouri.

In 1956, attracted by its management development emphasis, Tom joined Esso’s (now ExxonMobil) Baton Rouge Refinery, the largest in the U.S., where he had eight different assignments in ten years. The first jobs involved docks, tanks, offsites, process unit inspection and operations troubleshooting. Knowledge gained at Webb was heavily used, especially fluid flow, furnaces, heat exchangers, and steam systems. During this time, Tom learned refining processes and obtained (night school) an MBA at LSU.

Assigned to a budget group, Tom introduced discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis for project analysis and justification. Next, he worked in short and long-range economics groups using unit and refinery simulations to determine product yields and costs. His last assignment at Baton Rouge was as head of Business Analysis and Specialties Economics. This group negotiated large supply contracts and developed total and incremental costs for over 1000 products manufactured at Baton Rouge.

In 1965 Tom transferred to Houston to a Corporate Planning group that did special studies for directors, reviewed capital projects requiring Board approval, and prepared long-range plans for U.S. operations. This was followed by a loan assignment as Planning and Economics Manager for Esso Australia, which had recently found large offshore crude oil reserves. His group provided economic analysis for refining and marketing and for support of crude price negotiations with the Australian government.

Returning to Houston in 1969, Tom was assigned to the Controllers Department as Refining Financial Coordinator. He designed and supervised the implementation of Exxon’s uniform domestic refining accounting systems, one which provided actionable information for operating management and replaced purely financial programs previously used by seven refineries and plants.
In 1973, after federal price controls were imposed on the petroleum industry, Tom managed the organization created to track regulations and demonstrate compliance. Documentation of $750 million per month in increased costs and recoveries was required, as well as rapid response to federal and state government audit and data requests. Tom participated in over fifty government hearings, often presenting Exxon’s testimony. After petroleum was decontrolled by President Reagan, Tom worked on competitive strategy studies.

In 1982 Tom’s Webb background resulted in his being named External Affairs Manager of Exxon Shipping, responsible for activities not related to current operations, namely public affairs, litigation support, oil spill planning, and interfunctional studies. When the Exxon Valdez grounded in 1989, Tom was first to arrive in the response center to mount the spill response effort. Soon thereafter, he became a Litigation Consultant, interfacing with the public and retained law firms on Exxon Valdez issues. He retired from Exxon in 1992, but was retained as a consultant several more years.

Tom then teamed with a partner to do studies for barge, terminal, refining, pipeline, and financial entities. On a subscription basis, a periodic report was developed on volumes and costs of crude and product movements by pipeline, barge, and tankers. This report is now being prepared by another Exxon retiree and David St. Amand ‘77.

Tom now lives in Houston, Texas. A docent on the USS Texas (BB35), he invites Webbies to see its 1920s vintage “A” type riveted boilers and its unchanged 1911-built engine room with its 14,000 SHP double-acting triple expansion steam engine.