Chuck Williamson

Chairman and chief executive officer, Unocal Corporation

Nationality: American.

Born: September 1948, in Akron, Ohio.

Education: University of Utah, MS, 1973; University of Texas at Austin, PhD, 1978.

Family: Married Cathy (maiden name unknown); children: two.

Career: Exxon Corporation, 1975–1977, geologist; Unocal Corporation, 1977–1983, research associate for Science and Technology Division; 1983–1986, chief exploration geologist for United Kingdom; 1986–1989, exploration manager and director for Unocal Netherlands, 1989–1992, vice president, exploration, for Unocal Thailand; 1992–1994, vice president, technology, of Energy Resources Division; 1994–1995, vice president of planning and information services; 1995–1996, vice president of corporate planning and economics; 1997–1999, group vice president of Asia Operations; 1999–2001, executive vice president of International Energy Operations and member of Unocal's Executive Committee and board of directors; 2001–, named CEO in January 2001 and chairman in October 2001.

Address: Unocal Corporation, 2141 Rosecrans Avenue, Suite 4000, El Segundo, California 90245;

■ After more than two decades helping Unocal Corporation explore for and bring into production new oil and gas reserves around the world, Charles (Chuck) R. Williamson in January 2001 took over the reins of the company as CEO. In October of that year, he was given the additional responsibilities of chairman.


Unocal, which was founded in 1890 as the Union Oil Company of California in Santa Paula, was in the early 2000s an independent oil and gas exploration and production company headquartered in El Segundo, California. Its business was divided into four major segments—exploration and production, trade, midstream operations, and geothermal and power operations. Before taking over the helm at Unocal, Williamson spent much of his career in exploration and production.

In the early 2000s Unocal's exploration and production operations were scattered around the globe. Separate business units of Unocal oversaw regional and national operations in the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, West Africa, central Asia, Brazil, and North America. As reserves in the United States and Canada were gradually drawn down, Unocal stepped up its exploration and production activities outside North America, particularly in Southeast Asia.

The trade segment of Unocal was responsible for externally marketing the company's output of hydrocarbon products, which included not only the marketing function but the transportation of those products as well. To minimize the company's exposure to the volatility of oil and gas price fluctuations in the commodity markets, the trade segment was also involved in the trading of futures, swaps, and options that served as a hedge against sudden price movements, up or down.

Unocal's midstream operations were focused on the company's wholly owned pipeline systems as well as its equity interests in other petroleum pipeline companies. The company held a 23.44 percent equity interest in the Colonial Pipeline Company, which operated the Colonial Pipeline running from Texas to New Jersey. Unocal Pipeline Company, a wholly owned subsidiary, held a 1.36 percent participation interest in the TransAlaska Pipeline System (TAPS), which carried oil from Alaska's North Slope to the Port of Valdez. The midstream operations segment also oversaw Unocal's interests in natural gas storage facilities in Texas and western Canada.

Although the world's reserves of oil and gas were expected to continue to provide output for a number of years, Unocal was also investing in the exploration and exploitation of international geothermal resources. Through subsidiaries, Unocal operated large geothermal fields that produced steam used to generate power at projects in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Williamson took over the leadership of Unocal only months before the beginning of the economic recession of 2001–2003. Despite the general economic weakness worldwide, which was accompanied by softness in oil and gas prices, Unocal managed to post creditable financial results for both 2001 and 2002. After peaking at about $9.2 billion in 2000, partly on the strength of a spike in oil prices that year, Unocal's revenue slipped to $6.8 billion in 2001 and $5.3 billion in 2002. The end of the recession in 2003 was reflected in an upsurge in sales, which in the first three quarters of the year totaled just under $5 billion. Unocal's net income of $615 million in 2001 was down from $760 million the previous year. Profit fell to $331 million in 2002, the full 12 months of which were mired in recession.


A geologist by training, Williamson earned his master's degree at the University of Utah in 1973 and then enrolled in the geology doctoral program at the University of Texas, Austin. Even before he earned his PhD in 1978, he began putting his training to work. In 1975 Williamson joined Exxon, where he worked for two years as a geologist, and in 1977 he joined Unocal as a research associate with the company's Science and Technology Division in Brea, California. In 1983 Williamson was named the company's chief exploration geologist for the United Kingdom, a job he held until 1986, when he became the director and exploration manager at Unocal Netherlands, headquartered in the Hague.

Williamson next went to Southeast Asia, taking over in 1989 as vice president, exploration, for Unocal Thailand, based in Bangkok. Although he returned to the United States in 1992 after being named vice president of technology in Unocal's Energy Resources Division, his interest in Southeast Asia and its energy reserves was to resurface again in the years to come.

Williamson moved quickly up the executive ladder at Unocal, being named vice president of planning and information services in 1994. A year later he was appointed vice president for corporate planning and economics, and in 1996 he was named group vice president for International Energy Operations. In 1997 Williamson became group vice president for Asia Operations. In February 1999 he was named executive vice president of International Energy Operations, and he also became a member of Unocal's management committee. In late 1999 Roger Beach, then Unocal's chairman and CEO, named Williamson to the company's board of directors. In making the announcement, according to a company press release, Beach said that "Chuck's leadership skills and technical expertise are critical to our future success as we pursue extraordinary growth opportunities in Asia, South America, and West Africa" (December 9, 1999).

In December 2000 Williamson was tapped to succeed Beach as Unocal's CEO, effective January 1, 2001. An outside director, John W. Creighton Jr. was selected to serve as nonexecutive chairman of Unocal's board. In October 2001 Williamson took over the additional responsibilities of chairman. In its first year under Williamson's direction, Unocal suffered a significant blow to its earnings as a result of dramatic declines in international prices for crude oil and North American natural gas prices. However, beyond its financial performance, Unocal managed to show significant gains in production of both oil and gas, which were up 8 percent in the year. The company's reserves grew even more sharply, jumping 15 percent, largely "as a result of our highest reserve replacement rate in a decade," according to Unocal's 2001 Annual Report.

Before 2001 most of Unocal's operations in Southeast Asia were centered in Thailand, where Williamson had worked from 1989 until 1992 as Unocal Thailand's vice president for exploration. Under Williamson, Unocal expanded its operations to other areas of southern and Southeast Asia, making significant investments and promising discoveries in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

The company also began negotiations in 2001 with the Chinese government for a 20 percent participation in the development of China's Xihu Trough natural gas fields in the East China Sea. However, when those negotiations faltered in late 2001, it seemed that the deal might fall through. China's Sinopec, its major oil refiner, and CNOOC Ltd., the country's leading offshore oil producer, suggested that they might develop those resources on their own. Negotiations continued off and on until the summer of 2003, when an agreement was struck giving Unocal and Shell each a 20 percent share in the project, with the remaining 60 percent split evenly between Sinopec and CNOOC.

In 2002, overshadowed by the worldwide economy for the entire year, Unocal experienced declines in its worldwide production of oil and gas and in its replacement of oil and gas reserves. Output of oil and gas was down 6 percent in 2002 compared with 2001, and Unocal's oil and gas reserves declined 3 percent.


Against this backdrop of lower production worldwide, Williamson moved aggressively to increase Unocal's investments in the Asia Pacific region. In an interview with Supunnabul Suwannakij of Dow Jones Newswires in April 2002, Williamson said: "Unocal continues to invest heavily in the Asia region with a focus on (natural) gas business as there is lots of room for investment opportunities." Roughly half of the company's 2002 capital spending budget of $1.6 billion was allocated to the Asia Pacific region. Williamson projected that Unocal would increase its investment of $6 billion in Thailand by $4.3 billion over the next decade. The Unocal CEO also indicated that the company would seek to expand its investment in the Southeast Asian regional power-generation business.

Unocal's operations in Southeast Asia got unwelcome high-profile coverage in December 2003 when villagers from Myanmar (formerly Burma) took the company to court, charging that Unocal was responsible for human rights abuses committed against them by Myanmar's military during a 1990s pipeline project. Speaking on behalf of the villagers, Terry Collingsworth, executive director of the International Labor Rights Fund, said Unocal was well aware of the methods used by Myanmar's military and thus should be held responsible for abuses suffered by the villagers. Daniel Petrocelli, lead counsel for Unocal, argued that the subsidiaries that built the pipeline—and not Unocal—should have been targeted by the suit. Interviewed by the Bangkok Post in October 2003, Williamson reaffirmed Unocal's commitment to its pipeline project in Myanmar. Of the Yadana pipeline that carried gas to Thailand from offshore Myanmar, Williamson said: "We still believe in what we are doing for that country. We know that Thailand needs the gas, and from the perspective of shareholders, it is a profitable project."

Another indication of Unocal's commitment to Southeast Asia came in February 2002 with Williamson's election as chairman of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, the leading American business group promoting trade between the United States and 10 countries of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). In accepting the position, Williamson pledged to use business channels to help bring the United States and Southeast Asia closer together. According to a press release from the Business Council, he noted, "It will be an honor for me to lead this important group as we work with our partners and colleagues in the region to move to full economic recovery in Southeast Asia" ("Charles R. Williamson Elected New Chairman of the US-ASEAN Business Council").


Short-term prospects for Unocal brightened further in 2003. In addition to improved earnings, the second half of 2003 brought a flurry of positive news. In November the company announced that it had made a natural gas discovery at its Happy Valley field on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. The previous month Unocal had reported two promising developments from its exploration activities in the Gulf of Mexico. A major hydrocarbon discovery on the company's deepwater St. Malo prospect was called "a significant milestone" in Unocal's Gulf deepwater program. Also encouraging was the completion of a successful appraisal well on the company's Harvest deep shelf field in the Gulf. In July, Williamson announced that the company's Unocal Ganal Ltd. subsidiary had made a significant discovery of gas condensate and oil in its Ganal production-sharing contract area 3.5 miles south of the Rangaas field off East Kalimantan in Indonesia. Williamson said in a company press release that the find was "potentially the most significant well we have drilled in the deepwater since the Seno discovery well in 1998" (July 23, 2003). The Unocal CEO also said the discovery opened up "a new, deeper oil and gas trend for us across our huge acreage holdings in the deepwater Kutei Basin," which was also the site of the Seno find.

In addition to his responsibilities at Unocal and as chairman of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, Williamson sat on the boards of the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S.-China Business Council. A member of both the National Petroleum Council and the American Geological Institute Foundation, he also served on the advisory panels of the U.S.-Indonesia Society and California Asia Society. On the academic front, Williamson served on earth science–related advisory boards at the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University.

See also entry on Unocal Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Changsorn, Pichaya, "Unocal, Ministry Differ on Gas Prices," Nation (Thailand), October 24, 2003.

"Charles R. Williamson Elected New Chairman of the US ASEAN Business Council," U.S.-ASEAN Business Report , 13, no. 2 (second quarter, 2002), .

"Charles Williamson Named CEO of Unocal," Petroleum News , December 28, 2000.

Eviatar, Daphne, "Profits at Gunpoint: Unocal's Pipeline in Burma Becomes a Test Case in Corporate Accountability," Nation (Thailand), June 30, 2003.

"Human Rights Trial over Unocal Project in Myanmar Opens in Los Angeles," AP Worldstream , December 10, 2003.

Kositchotethana, Boonsong, "Unocal Chief Sees Expanded Role for Thailand, Asia," Bangkok Post , October 21, 2002.

Suwannakij, Supunnabul, "Unocal Plans to Invest Heavily in Asia Pacific," Dow Jones Newswires , April 29, 2002.

"Thailand to Push Energy Integration among Asian Countries," Bangkok Post , October 22, 2003.

Unocal Appoints Ling, Williamson to Board of Directors; Imle Resigns as Vice Chairman," Unocal press release, December 9, 1999, .

"Unocal Chief Is New Head," Nation (Thailand), February 28, 2002.

"Unocal Makes Significant Discovery on First Deeper Test in Kutei Basin," Unocal press release, July 23, 2003, .

—Don Amerman

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