The Liberal Arts-Based Journey of Lobie Stone: From Barges, to Oil Trading, to Enron, to A Successful Entrepreneur, and, Finally, to First Lady of Monmouth College

Our guest speaker last Thursday was unique in at least two big ways.

First, Lobie Stone–wife of Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt–is the first First Lady of the College we have had as a guest speaker. Second, her journey to this point in her life–which included running a successful interior design business along the way–was not only different than any other we have heard about but also demonstrative of the value of a liberal arts education; specifically the diversity of things in life such an educational background prepares one to successfully do.

With that brief introduction to what was a fascinating glimpse into ongoing the liberal arts-based journey of Lobie Stone, I turn things over to class blogger Farida Mohammed for far more detail.

Thank you Lobie for being our guest!

Prof. Gabel


When we think of a woman who has done and seen it all in different Business fields we can think of no other person than the First Lady of Monmouth College, Lobie Stone.  It was an honor to have her speak to the Midwest entrepreneur class this week. Being in a Liberal Arts College is a great opportunity to explore several fields.  After listening to her story I can say Stone is an example of how the importance of acquiring such a degree can benefit a student.

Stone’s mother was an artist and her father was the president of a barge line.  It was no surprise that Stone followed her mother’s path and acquired her degree in studio art and art history from the University of Minnesota after having studied for two years at Centre College, a liberal arts college much like Monmouth.  After graduating from college, Stone lived in Paris for a year.  This trip shaped her life and left her thinking that she was returning to the United States to be an artist.

Upon her return, her father requested she take a trip down the Mississippi River on one of his company’s towboats in order to take photographs for the company’s annual report.  She ended up in New Orleans and realized that she wanted to stay in the city and work in the river industry.  Through networking and referrals she got a job with a large river transportation company moving petroleum products.  This executive who hired her told her he did not know what to pay her as she would be the first woman in the country to dispatch towboats.  He decided to pay her the same as the switchboard operator, rather than the same salary as the man who previously held the job.  She reminded us that such a thing was legal at the time.

As her career progressed, she was hired by an oil company to operate its trading division and barge line.  As part of her job, she travelled between New Orleans, Chicago, and Houston.  At some point, she had to make a tough decision to choose between the two businesses.  Her heart was in New Orleans with the river business, but she knew her future was in Houston as an oil trader.  The class learned that a trader is one who takes title to the product while a broker is a middleman who takes a commission.

For Lobie this was a very exciting time in her life.  She was learning something new every day, and she was a pioneer in what had been considered a man’s world.  For example, she was a denied a seat in the main dining room of the Petroleum Club of Houston, even though she was a member of the Petroleum Club of New Orleans, with reciprocal rights.  What guided her in this business were the words of her father, who was her personal role model, “Your word is your bond” and “Never be tempted to tell someone what you think they want to hear.”  With everything that happened with her oil trading business, it did not discourage her; instead it made her much stronger.  She decided it was time to do something different.

At this point she was married to her former husband who happened to be the head of operations for a major oil company in Houston.  There was a conflict of interest between their job, so she began a career as a stockbroker.  Her pay was strictly commissions, no salary.  As they said in the industry, “you eat what you kill.”  This was much like being an entrepreneur, as there was no paid vacation, no personal or maternity leave.  After several years, she gave birth to a daughter with special needs.  She then took almost ten years off and gave her total time and attention to her daughter.  “They said that she would never walk, but she went on to win gold medals for running in the Special Olympics,” she said with so much pride.  After making sure her daughter was in good care, Stone decided that it was time to return to work.

Due to her previous background in working in the both the oil industry and as a stockbroker, she was able to acquire a job at Enron in Houston.  For the first time in her life, she did not find satisfaction with her job.  In a matter of months Enron declared bankruptcy. The head of the crude oil division climbed on a desk and, using a bullhorn, told everyone that they had twenty minutes to clear the building.  This was the defining moment for her, which completely changed her career path.

Stone had been an interior designer for her family and friends “for fun and for free” for almost 25 years.  She moved to San Antonio for family reasons.  For a woman who had no credentials in interior design but a studio art degree, she did not know where to start to help her to explore her career dreams.  However, due to referrals and determination, she took a retail job for a short period, where she learned where to find the best antique stores, iron craftsmen, limestone cutters, and other artisans.  It also helped her get to know potential customers to whom she could offer her design services in the future.

She advised the class that sometimes we have to learn to set our egos aside.  Also, her travel experiences and an eye for great color, composition, and style enabled her to succeed in this industry.  Stone also told us about a cautionary tale to use the Internet very wisely.  This is because anything that goes on the Internet is going to be there forever.  She said that you need to closely monitor that what is on the Internet about you and your business is correct.  As an entrepreneur it will be an important thing to look out for since that is your name and your reputation.

As much as interior decoration seems very easy, one must be equipped with skills to help them do a great job.  Stone mentioned that the previous businesses that she had been involved in prepared her to be an entrepreneur.  She stated that as an entrepreneur whatever you do reflects you, but in a big company you are less visible. This is one reason why being an entrepreneur was one of the memorable things that she has enjoyed doing.

To conclude the story of her journey as a young oil trader and stockbroker into First Lady of Monmouth College, she left us with some tips on how to manage our lives to become successful students and eventually entrepreneurs.  According to her, you have to take the time to do your job right the first time.  You also have to learn to gravitate towards meeting new people, and the only way to do this effectively is to get off your phone so you can build a personal connection with others.  Stone is indeed an example of what a liberal arts education can do for an individual.

Farida Mohammed

Monmouth College ’18

Economics and Business Double Major

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About Terrance Gabel

Terrance G. Gabel is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Economy and Commerce at Monmouth College. Originally from Keokuk, Iowa, Dr. Gabel earned his BBA (Marketing) from the University of Iowa, his Master of Science degree (Marketing) from Texas A&M University, and his Ph.D. (Marketing) from the University of Memphis. He possesses three years of business-to-business sales experience, one year of executive-level marketing management experience for a heavy industrial international trade services firm, and one year of product management experience for a large banking organization. He was also a freelance business writer and consultant for approximately three years.

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