Rock on, Rockefellers!

05/25/2011 01:05 pm ET
  • Jonathan A. Schein Highly regarded as a media and business executive. Noted for his thought leadership ability to quickly take advantage of new technologies and apply them to markets and the underlying structures of business, governmental and social trends.

For the second time in a year, the descendants of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil (the company that became Exxon Mobil Corp.) have backed a resolution demanding the company loosen fossil fuel's hold as its main source of revenue, as well as move more ambitiously into renewable energy technologies. According to published reports, the resolution, which will be presented at Exxon Mobil's annual meeting in May, will require the company to "investigate the potential impact of climate change and compare the outcome in which Exxon Mobil becomes a leader in renewable energy." Last year the family presented a similar resolution and it received 10.4 percent shareholder backing. According to Neva Goodwin, a great granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, Exxon Mobil is simply not doing enough to move into renewables, and its investment plans are overly-dependant on increased oil demand from developing countries.

Exxon Mobil has responded by stating that it is spending investment dollars on researching increased energy efficiency through renewables and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It's an interesting reaction. Instead of presenting specifics, the company seems to be offering affable generalities, and then changing the subject.

Instead of deflecting the Rockefellers, Exxon Mobil should listen to what they are saying, if not from an environmental point of view, then from a simple business perspective. There may be such a thing as a genetic predisposition to capitalism ; in the 1870s, coal and wood were the main sources of energy in this country, not oil. John D. Rockefeller, however, had a vision about oil's potential, and by the late 1940s, it had surpassed coal as the nation's main energy supply.

If history can be used as a gauge, Exxon Mobil might be wise to take some business advice for the future from the family that got them started.

Jonathan A. Schein is the publisher of and