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Arnold Stancell

Chemical engineer and corporate oil executive Arnold Stancell was born on November 16, 1936 in Harlem, New York to Maria Lucas, a seamstress and Francis Stancell, a musician. He lived with his single mother and was focused on his education throughout his youth. After passing competitive exams to attend Stuyvesant High School, Stancell went on to City College of New York where he graduated magna cum laude with his B.S. degree in chemical engineering in 1958. Stancell was awarded a graduate fellowship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and became the first African American to earn his Ph.D. degree from MIT in chemical engineering in 1962.

After graduation, Stancell worked at Mobil Oil Corporation from 1962 to 1970, researching new chemical and plastic products. During this time, he was awarded eleven patents for new plastics processes and plasma (ionized gas) reactions for new products. In 1970, Stancell took a leave of absence from Mobil Oil to teach at MIT. He started a research program on plasma reactions at surfaces and his student, David Lam, went on to found Lam Research, the preeminent company worldwide in plasma etching of circuits into the surface of silicon chips. In 1971, Stancell declined a tenured professorship position at MIT to return to Mobil Oil. He continued to excel at Mobil, becoming vice president of Mobil Plastics in 1976 and led the commercialization of a new plastic film that revolutionized packaging and replaced cellophane. In 1982 he became vice president of Mobil Europe Marketing and Refining based in London. He then progressed through a number of additional executive positions becoming vice president of oil and natural gas Exploration and Production in 1989 responsible for finding and developing oil and natural gas reserves in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Australia. Stancell initiated, negotiated and launched the now $70 billion liquefied natural gas production joint venture between Mobil and Qatar which sells natural gas to markets worldwide.

In 1993, he retired from Mobil after a thirty-one year career and a year later accepted George Institute of Tecnology’s invitation to join its faculty as professor of chemical engineering. He became the Turner Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2001, and in 2004 retired as Professor Emeritus. After the 2010 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill, Stancell consulted and advised the United States Department of Interior. In 2011, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Science Board.

Stancell has received numerous recognitions including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers National Award for Chemical Engineering Practice, Career Achievement Award of City College of New York, Professional Achievement Award of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers and in 1992 was named Black Engineer of the Year. In 1997, he was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and in 2009, was elected to its Board. In 2010, he was appointed to the Governing Board of the National Research Council. He has also received numerous outstanding teacher awards. Arnold Stancell is married to artist Constance Newton Stancell.

Arnold Stancell was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 14, 2012.

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Stuyvesant High School

City College of New York

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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New York



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New York

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Everything comes to he that waiteth, if he worketh while he waited.

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Beef Tenderloin

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Chemical engineer and corporate executive Arnold Stancell (1936 - ) had a thirty-one year career with Mobil Oil starting in research and rising to vice president of Exploration and Production. He served on the National Science Board and advised the United States government after the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill.


Georgia Institute of Technology

Mobil Oil Company

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

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Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Arnold Stancell's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Arnold Stancell lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Arnold Stancell describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Arnold Stancell describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Arnold Stancell talks about meeting his father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Arnold Stancell describes his earliest childhood memory and his childhood home</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Arnold Stancell describes the sights, sounds and smells of his growing up</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Arnold Stancell talks about his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Arnold Stancell talks about his junior high school experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Arnold Stancell talks about his involvement in the church and youth organizations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Arnold Stancell talks about his junior high school experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Arnold Stancell talks about his high school experience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Arnold Stancell talks about his high school experience and his decision to go to City College of New York</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Arnold Stancell talks about his experience at City College of New York</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Arnold Stancell talks about social baggage</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Arnold Stancell talks about living in Harlem during the 1950s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Arnold Stancell talks about his interest in polymers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Arnold Stancell talks about his first professional job at Exxon and his decision to pursue a doctoral degree</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Arnold Stancell talks about his perceptions of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Arnold Stancell talks about his experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Arnold Stancell talks about his mentorship at MIT</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Arnold Stancell describes his dissertation on improving crude oil recovery</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Arnold Stancell talks about his work at Mobil</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Arnold Stancell talks about the poetic qualities of thermodynamics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Arnold Stancell talks about his work with plasma</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Arnold Stancell talks about his professional relationship with NOBCChE and how he met his wife</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Arnold Stancell talks about his marriages</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Arnold Stancell talks about his work at Mobil Chemical, part 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Arnold Stancell talks about his work at Mobil Chemical, part 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Arnold Stancell considers the environmental impact of his work</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Arnold Stancell talks about his progressive roles at Mobil, part 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Arnold Stancell talks about his progressive roles at Mobil, part 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Arnold Stancell talks about David Lam</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Arnold Stancell talks about his international work with Mobil</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Arnold Stancell talks about Mobil's drilling activities and drill technology</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Arnold Stancell talks about the Quatar Deal</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Arnold Stancell talks about the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Arnold Stancell talks about his retirement from Mobil</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Arnold Stancell talks about the BP Oil Spill</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Arnold Stancell talks about his perceptions of U.S. education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Arnold Stancell talks about his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Arnold Stancell reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Arnold Stancell talks about his family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Arnold Stancell talks about how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Arnold Stancell describes his photos</a>







Arnold Stancell talks about his progressive roles at Mobil, part 1
Arnold Stancell talks about his international work with Mobil
Okay, alright. Now, now in 1980, you were in the management of Mobil Corporate Planning in New York?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$Ye that's--$$How did that come about, first of all?$$Well, I must have done a good job on the vice president of plastics, so I think the president of Mobil heard a presentation from me on our plastics business. And so this particular job, when you come now to New York--I came from the Rochester area, Macedon, New York, down to New York City headquarters. Now you're in a position where you're handling planning for all of Mobil, and you report to the senior vice president for planning of Mobil. And he's on the board. So now the board directors, the presidents of Mobil's major divisions and the chairman and the president of Mobil all get a chance to see you up close. You make presentations, you make points regarding strategies of the different businesses and so on. And I guess I could have used a little mentoring more at that time, so that now I've been with Mobil for awhile, I mean, I just, I'm coming right out--first I was in research, then I ran a business--I'm coming into world headquarters. I mean I don't know the rules of the game, and I'm in a very visible position, being this manager of corporate planning, making presentations to the board and so on. So, you start picking up on what's the way things are done. I always called it the way I saw it, though. And so I must have done pretty well with that, but that was a very exciting time, because Mobil made a bid for Marathon Oil, and I started getting more into the financial aspects of Mobil, of course through the business of my prior job, running the film business, plastic film business. So with corporate planning, you get heavily into financial matters, but a president asked me to head up a task force within a small group, and he wanted to keep it quiet. To select the target, Mobil was ready to make an acquisition that we would be an oil company, and of the various oil companies, what's our recommendation? And so, that was really exciting. We worked, obviously, secretly and so on, and we chose Marathon Oil. We thought they were heavily undervalued compared to their real underlying value. I came up with estimates of their underlying value, and we had experts from the financial houses worrying about how you structured a deal, and it was a heady time. we mounted our offer. It was on the low side, and Marathon rejected it. Now, Marathon's another oil company, so they knew that if Mobil takes them over, you know, we didn't need their whole super structure. So, they held us up and they filed an antitrust suit. We increased our offer. We kept increasing our offer. But they were successful, as you might expect, really, that they filed an antitrust. That takes time, and people had started at sixty dollars a share and it got up quickly to 70 dollars a share, 80 dollars a share. We finished putting our offer out there at 120 dollars a share, and people didn't take our offer, they took the 120 dollar a share offer from U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel joined in, and U.S. Steel bought Marathon. And of course, there was not going to be antitrust issues that Marathon had some refineries, they had some service stations, and if Mobil and Marathon got together, it would restrain trade. There were no issues, because U.S. Steel is a steel company. So they quickly closed their deal and we were locked out. So, people thought we would never close on our deal, it would take too long. But here's a guy who was 120 dollars a share right now. So that was very disappointing that we missed out on the Marathon acquisition.$Okay, alright. Now, when we broke, you were in London as a vice president for Mobil Europe, right?$$Yes.$$And the '80's [1980s] were a time, I was thinking about this during the break, that British Petroleum started, you know, making inroads into the U.S. market in the '80's [1980s]. I don't know if they were doing that when you were there, but it was--$$Yes, they were, they had a presence in the U.S. market through Standard Oil Ohio. and their exploration and production, they were active in the Gulf of Mexico and other areas of the U.S. They were not aggressive, but they had a presence. The early '80's [1980s] in London, Europe was going through where like Margaret Thatcher was putting in her conservative policies in Britain, and there was a big fight with the coal unions. And it was a time of transition in Europe to more of a market economy, even more of a market economy, so--$$Okay. I know that was the beginning of it. That was, Standard Oil of Ohio was basically taken over by BP.$$Yes, that's right.$$By the end of the '80's [1980s], they had not only Standard Oil of Ohio, I think, but Standard Oil, period, right?$$They had Standard Oil of Indiana, Amoco. They ended up merging with--around late '80's [1980s], like '89' [1989] or something like that, yeah.$$So, what were you doing? So you're in London, and what were some of the highlights of what you're--$$It gets a little--my district--the advantage of having a technical background, and you're also running a business, I think you can maybe see some issues. And in terms of when you build a refinery, it's not just saying I'm going to run some crude oil through here and get some products. You've got to be concerned about the location of those products, because the transportation costs of those products to the different markets can be considerable. So, people recognize that, but then also the configuration. What hardware do you put in a refinery? If you just put in simple hardware--so, you got a refinery, it takes crude oil and gives you some products, but it's the type of products you get. You want to maximize gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil and diesel. Those are the products that have the value to them. The heavy part, after you get through refining, has low value. So, you really want to take the heavy part that has low value and put investment in to convert that up to these higher value products. So you want crude oil to come into the box, and out just comes gasoline, heating oil, jet fuel, and diesel. And if you don't have that, your refinery is going to be uncompetitive. You won't have the margins to survive against refineries that have all that hardware. So, we cut through all the issues of in terms of what refineries you should keep, which ones we should invest in, by having this simple picture, and we use that very powerfully. We ended up as negative, but we ended up shutting four refineries. But we invested heavily in the remaining ones to make them only produce G and D, and overall we were more profitable. So that was very exciting. I had a strategy that made sense. The, just the different countries, I'm trying to think of any particular issues-France--we had a lot of union issues because we were trying to make our operations more efficient. But the laws of the country gave a lot of strength to the unions, and you couldn't close, you couldn't shut down... As I mentioned, some refineries you want to keep, some you don't. And so it was difficult, very difficult. In France we tried to shut down a refinery which was a negative, but it made economic sense. We were going to continue with the workers in other operations, but we couldn't move them. See, the mobility of workers in Europe wasn't, isn't like the mobility here in the U.S. If you have an operation and you say, look you can be more efficient, you can have your job, but you'll have your job over here. I know it disrupts your family, but, et cetera. But people, a lot of people will do that. But in Europe, they won't. And so we had union people bust into our offices in France and Paris armed with bats and threatening the general manager. So I got a call from the general manager, the president of Mobil France, and he says, "Arnie" (laughter), because they call me Arnie, "We got a problem here. The workers are rioting here, threatening and so on." So, I said, "You've got to call the police." (laughter). Cooler heads ended up prevailing, but you know, they took to the streets on that one. We ended up convincing enough workers to take the deal and things calmed down, but it was a trying time.$$What was the deal?$$The deal was that we had another refinery location and a refinery we thought was competitive that had the kind of hardware that I was telling you about. And we were going to expand that. We could move a bunch of those jobs up north. So they were down in this lovely area near the Mediterranean, charming restaurants, charming hillside, and we were going to move them up to Ravensheugh, north, and they didn't want any part of that. So, and then for those who didn't want to move at all, they agreed in negotiation with the union on a payout. But a bunch did take it, and moved up to Ravensheugh. There were those kinds of things in Europe.$$Alright. So you were there for--$$I think it's almost three and a half years, or four years, three years.$$Okay, so you arrived in '82' [1982], right?$$'82' [1982] and left in '85' [1985].$$'85' [1985], right.$$Yes three years, yes.$$So you became vice president of Mobil Global Marketing and Refining Planning in New York.$$Yes so that's Mobil's deal of, now you've finished an operating job, and now you go back to world headquarters and now back into planning, but now for broader knowledge and strategy for a major division. I had the corporate planning job, but this is a way now of getting more familiar with the marketing and refining. I had not been in marketing and refining. So, with that job--I mean, I was in marketing and refining, operating--now I'm getting marketing and refining, a broad overview.$$Okay, alright. So what are some of the highlights of that?$$That was, I'm trying to think of the, at that time, now we were, in terms of the particular operation, you know, it really was a continuation of this thought that I started in Europe where now I could apply it to Mobil's global marketing and refining, where you look to your refineries that are going to be your keepers, because you're going to invest heavily in them with this upgrading to make more valuable products, and less investment going into closure of the office for overall better efficiency. And we applied that worldwide. of course we operated-- marketing and refining, you know, we had Japan, we had, you name it. We were marketing and refining throughout the--well, Singapore, Australia. I didn't start it, but we started in Saudi Arabia with marketing and refining, mainly refining. So it was a continuation of the strategy that we started in Europe, but now applying it more broadly [unclear].