John Jacob Kelberer

14 August 1946 - 23 June 1991

Under: Obituary
John Jacob Kelberer

John Jacob Kelberer, the last American to serve as chairman and chief executive of the Arabian American Oil Company, or Aramco, died Wednesday at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 64 years old.

He died of pancreatic cancer, said a family spokesman.

Mr. Kelberer was with Aramco for 38 years, serving the final 10 years in the top positions. Under his leadership Aramco experienced the largest growth in its 55-year history, increasing production to nearly 10 million barrels of oil a day.

When Mr. Kelberer became chief executive in 1978, Aramco was facing criticism by the Carter Administration and the Saudi Government over management of the oilfields.

Under Mr. Kelberer, the company undertook vast engineering and construction projects, including the construction of 725-mile, trans-peninsular pipelines for crude oil and natural gas. It also constructed a multibillion-dollar master gas system that processed natural gas for export and for Saudi Arabian industry and an electrical grid system that linked 26 private power companies with the Government's high voltage network.

Under Mr. Kelberer, the company also made efforts to include Saudi nationals in its operations through a recruitment and training program. Eventually, the company said, Saudis were placed in almost three-quarters of the company's supervisory and managerial positions.

Mr. Kelberer was the last American to administer Aramco. In February 1989 he transferred the company to the Saudi Government, thereby ending American control of the world's largest known oil reserves.

Once the property of the Mobil Oil Corporation, the Exxon Corporation, the Standard Oil Company of California and Texaco Inc., the company became Saudi Aramco, the national oil company. The process of transfer started in the 1970's, as the Saudis began to buy the company. By 1974 they owned 60 percent but retained American management. Of the 20,000 United States citizens in Saudi Arabia, 4,560 were company employees or dependents.

Mr. Kleberer was born Aug. 14, 1926, in Rochester, Minn. He joined an Aramco subsidiary, the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company, in 1950, shortly after graduating from the University of Minnesota. At Tapline, he rose to vice president of operations and engineering and in 1971 was named acting general manager of government relations at Aramco. He became a director and senior vice president before being named chief executive.

He was active in the Roman Catholic Church and received two pontifical honors.

He is survived by his wife, Arlne; a son, Michael of St. Paul; six daughters, Mary Renquist of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Margaret Nelson of Minneapolis, Barbara McDonald of the Philippines, Elizabeth Kerr of Minneapolis, Kristine Currin of Wilmington, N.C., and Anne Helberer of Austin; two sisters, Margaret O'Laughlin of Minneapolis and Mary Heideman of Winona, Minn., and 14 grandchildren.

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