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John E. Swearingen, 89; helped oil firm to grow, guided troubled bank

September 17, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

John E. Swearingen, 89, a Chicago banker and oil executive who led Standard Oil Co. of Indiana to become the sixth-largest U.S. company, died Friday of pneumonia at a Birmingham, Ala., hospital, according to his wife, Bonnie Bolding Swearingen. He also had Alzheimer's disease.

A native of Columbia, S.C., Swearingen graduated from the University of South Carolina and earned a master's degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. He immediately went to work as a researcher for Standard Oil.

He rose to become chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana and retired in 1983 at 65. During his 44-year career -- 23 of which were as chief executive -- the company's profits rose from $84 million to $1.8 billion, according to his 2004 memoir, "Think Ahead."

After leaving Standard Oil, which became part of BPAmoco, now known as BP, Swearingen took over troubled Continental Illinois Bank, where he served as chairman and chief executive until 1989. Swearingen also served as chairman of the board of the American Petroleum Institute in 1978 and 1979, and also on the boards of major banks and corporations, including Sara Lee Corp.

"He was a giant of a businessman," said retired Sara Lee CEO John Bryan. "I don't think there was anyone in Chicago in the 20th century who was a more important business figure."

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