Houston History
Decades   LegacyCitizensPreservationCommunityHouston Voices
The Decades
a chronology from 1836
Our Legacy
stories of our past
Great Citizens
making a difference
historical landmarks
Our Community
join us
Houston Voices


(1902 - 1993)Leonard F. McCollum

The late Leonard F. McCollum set Conoco oil apart from the competition by taking chances and advancing the oil industry in unprecedented ways. McCollum was born on a Tennessee farm but quickly relocated near Victoria, Texas. He attended the University of Texas to become a journalist, but a required geology course changed his fate. He went on to obtain a B.S. in geology.

Known affectionately as "Mr. Mc," McCollum began as a staff geologist with Humble Oil and Refining Company, a Houston-based affiliate of the Standard Oil Company (Exxon). At 39, he was the youngest head of an oil company in the United States when he became president of Carter Oil Company, another division of Standard Oil in Tulsa. In 1943, McCollum moved to New York as chief coordinator of worldwide production.

McCollum continued to gain a solid reputation for exceptional leadership within Standard Oil and ultimately was recruited by Continental Oil Company (Conoco), Standard’s rival, in 1947.

He led Conoco into innovative fields of foreign exploration, natural gas processing, fertilizers, detergents and plastics. "He had dynamic ideas in business and was a pioneer in many areas," recalled his wife Eleanor. "He once bought a coal company for Conoco. They said he was crazy. It became their most lucrative investment."

Between 1947, when he first entered the boardroom of Conoco, and 1967, when he retired as CEO, McCollum constantly strove for improvement in his company and the oil industry. McCollum established new divisions of research and development, market research, and a planning and coordinating department. He possessed an extraordinary ability to delegate authority, inspire others and to see success where others saw failure. According to his wife, "He was a visionary who understood the oil industry."

McCollum distinguished himself in civic areas as well. Encouraged by family friend and renowned heart surgeon, Michael DeBakey, McCollum became involved in the medical field. He sat as chairman of the Baylor College of Medicine and became the first chairman of the People-to-People Health Foundation, whose floating hospital ship HOPE offers free healthcare all over the world.

McCollum’s greatest accomplishment may have been the development of Project Orbis, which turned a donated DC-8 plane into the "First Flying Eye Hospital." Containing a complete hospital, including a state-of-the-art operating room, the plane brings eye care to countries in need, educating local doctors on the latest innovations in eye care and surgery. The doctors then treat their own people using the plane’s facilities, equipment, and techniques.

Having served on countless other civic, governmental, educational, and business organizations, McCollum was called "a stalwart supporter of charitable causes... serving the world with uncommon distinguishment."

McCollum said, "The self interest in business is best served when the public interest is paramount." He continuously placed people first, touching the lives of many.

Leonard F. McCollum, a philanthropist and oilman who built the Continental Oil Company into the integrated worldwide energy giant known as Conoco, died at his home in Houston in 1993 after a short illness. He was 91.

Our Vintage Sponsors

© Copyright 2015 HoustonHistory.com. All rights reserved.