John S. Watson, ’80
Corporate Award - 2017
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
A Legacy of Excellence
Immediately after earning his MBA, John S. Watson, ’80, joined Chevron as a financial analyst—an analyst educated in the University of Chicago’s business school and passionate about its approach to economics and problem solving. The geopolitical nature and macroeconomic implications of the oil industry drew him to the energy business and Chevron. The unique company culture resonated with his local roots. Northern California born and raised, Watson has embraced the American energy giant as a perfect fit for his 37-year career.
“I was raised understanding that integrity and those personal characteristics that make up your reputation are very important,” Watson says. “My parents always talked to me about how you only have one reputation. So, it was wonderful to join Chevron and find those same characteristics. It’s been very much the compatibility of values, as expressed in the Chevron Way, that have kept me around for 37 years.”
Opportunity within Opportunity
Throughout his career, Watson has built his reputation at Chevron by taking on a variety of challenges and continually evolving as a leader in the multinational corporation. In true Booth fashion, he has been driven by an ongoing desire to learn by asking questions, listening, and collaborating with colleagues across the company.
“Chevron afforded me the opportunity to do many different things over time—I’ve had more than 15 different jobs,” Watson says. “The breadth of my education at Chicago and the diversity of on-the-job experience enabled me to wind up in the job I’m in today.”
Earlier in his career with the company, Watson held financial, analytical, and supervisory positions. In the late 1990s he served as president of Chevron’s refining and marketing company in Canada, and was elected vice president of the corporation, with responsibility for strategic planning and mergers and acquisitions.
Continuing his rise in the corporation, in 2000 he led the company’s integration effort following the Chevron-Texaco merger, and then
became the corporation’s CFO. In 2005, Watson was elected president of Chevron’s international exploration and production company.
Then, in 2008, he was elected executive vice president for strategy and development. Watson served as vice chairman of the board before being elected chairman and CEO in 2010.
The Continuum of Influence
Beyond Chevron Watson lends his efforts and expertise to a variety of groups. He currently serves on the board of directors and the executive committee of the American Petroleum Institute and is a member of the National Petroleum Council, the Business Council, the Business Roundtable, the American Society of Corporate Executives, and the University of California Davis Chancellor’s Board of Advisors. He’s also passionate about education.
“Chevron does a great deal around STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math,” Watson says. “As we look to hire young people to take positions in our company, there’s just an increasing shortfall, particularly among underrepresented minorities in some of the technical disciplines. We support many programs to foster more opportunity and education for youth in those fields.”
When it comes to his MBA education, Watson believes that his experience at the University of Chicago has played a crucial role in shaping his thinking, particularly the core belief in free markets championed by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.
“I’m very grateful to the university,” Watson says. “It taught me a way to think, and I didn’t really realize it until my later years that the way I would dissect problems and take on issues—including the public position of our company in many areas—is really based on some of the thinking skills that I developed at the University of Chicago. I truly believe that.”