Monroe "Jack" Rathbone so impressed his classmates that one of them wrote in the 1921 Epitome: "We do not know what form of business he will enter, but we do know that we would like to own some stock in it because he is just the kind of man who seems to make things go."
After graduating with honors with a degree in a chemical engineering, he went to work for the Standard Oil Company of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. Progressing rapidly within the company, in 1936, he was elected its president. He moved to Esso Standard Oil in 1944, when the two companies merged as president of the combined companies. He became director of the parent company, Standard Oil (New Jersey), now Exxon, in 1952 and was named president soon after. He became chief executive officer in the late ‘50’s, a position he held until his retirement in 1965. He also served as a director of a number of other companies.
During his last ten years with Exxon, he was credited with making it the most truly international of all corporations. This resulted in recognition from the European business community. He received the rank of Knight Commander, Order of St. Olav of Norway; Commander in the Order of Orange Nassau of the Netherlands; and Commander of the Order of Leopold II of Belgium.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., he was responsible for reorganizing all of Jersey Standard’s domestic operations into one integrated company, now Exxon Company, USA. Recognition by the business community for leadership included the honor award of Stevens Institute of Technology in 1957, the Gold Medal of Merit from Wharton School in 1962: the API Gold Medal for Achievement, among others. He was also named an original member of Fortune magazine’s Business Hall of Fame in 1975.
In addition to an honorary doctorate from Lehigh, he received honorary degrees from Lafayette College, Pace College, West Virginia University, Marietta College, and Chattanooga University.
After being elected president of the Alumni Association in 1948, Rathbone was a member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees from 1949 until his death, serving as chairman from 1957 until 1973. His skills as a manager and negotiator helped the university through a period of great expansion, student unrest and transition to coeducation. Rathbone Dining Hall is named in his honor. He established an endowment fund in International Relations at Lehigh as well as a life-income trust.