He Made Sun Oil Rise: Robert G. Dunlop, W’31, Hon’72

Robert Dunlop called himself a “bean counter.” Despite his sober self-assessment, Dunlop led Sun Oil Co. in innovative marketing strategies and aggressive acquisitions.

His leadership converted a regional company into a fully integrated corporation by greatly expanding its marketing territory, manufacturing, and production. The valedictorian of his Wharton class, Dunlop joined the Philadelphia oil company as an accountant. At the age of 37, Dunlop was handpicked to become the first president of Sun outside the Pew family, whose patriarch

Joseph Newton Pew founded the company in 1886. Endowed with remarkable recall—always remembering the names of employees after an initial meeting—Dunlop was serene and pensive, as well as sometimes self-effacing, often referring to his accounting roots but obviously proud of his superb technical prowess.

Under Dunlop, Sun Oil in 1958 introduced an innovation that is now familiar: the Custom Blending Pump, a novel system for dispensing a choice of five octane grades of gasoline from a single pump. It revolutionized the method of marketing gasoline, allowing companies to market higherpriced blends. A model of the pump is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Sun expanded into Canada, and later into Venezuela beginning in 1957. The Venezuelan Sun Oil Company produced more than one billion barrels of oil from Lake Maracaibo before ceasing operations in 1975 when the Venezuelan government nationalized Sun’s holdings. When Sun Oil merged with Sunray DX Oil of Tulsa, OK, in 1968, the company’s assets increased by a staggering 50 percent.

Dunlop’s ability to adapt to changing energy market conditions increased Sun’s business volume fivefold by the time he retired as chairman and CEO in 1974. Dunlop died in 1995.

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