Rex Tillerson, the former CEO and chairman of ExxonMobil Corporation, is Donald Trump‘s Secretary of State. He was confirmed by the Senate on February 1.
Tillerson was confirmed with a 56-43 vote, which was more contentious than past Secretary of State debates. Even Condoleezza Rice was confirmed with a 85-13 vote.
When Trump announced on Twitter that Tillerson would be his Secretary of State nominee, the President called him “one of the truly great business leaders of the world.”
Although the 64-year-old Tillerson has worked around the globe as an Exxon executive long before the merger of Exxon and Mobil in 1999, he has no experience in government or working as a diplomat. He also has close ties to Russia, which will come under increased scrutiny after The Washington Post reported that a secret CIA assessment concluded that Russia took steps during the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win the presidency.
Tillerson, who has been at Exxon since 1975 and is a native of Wichita Falls, Texas, is married to Renda St. Clair and they have four children. Tillerson was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2013.
Tillerson’s 2016 salary was $24.3 million, making him 29th on The New York Times’ list of 200 highest-paid CEOs of 2016. He has an estimated net worth of $150 million, NBC News reports. Tillerson retired from ExxonMobil at the end of 2016, the company announced on December 14 and Darren Woods replaced him on January 1, 2017. The Washington Post reported that he has a $69.5 million pension plan and Exxon stock worth about $218 million.
On December 11, after an interview on Fox News, Trump tweeted that Tillerson “is a world class player and dealmaker.”
Here’s a look at Tillerson’s life and career.
1. Tillerson Doesn’t Support Sanctions on Russia, Calling Them Ineffective
Tillerson’s links to Russia date back to the late 1990s, when he first met Vladimir Putin in 1999. In 2011, ExxonMobil began a partnership with Rosneft, the government-owned Russian oil company, for exploration in the Black Sea and Arctic. Two years later, Putin presented Tillerson with the Order of Friendship, one of Russia’s highest civilian honors.
Exxon was just one of several international oil giants that vied for interest in Russia, but it got the biggest piece of the action. “Exxon was without question the biggest winner, and I think it was because they developed these personal relationships,” Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012-2014, told the New York Times.
In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, resulting in sanctions from both the European Union and the U.S. The president of Rosneft was also targeted by the sanctions.
In May 2014, Tillerson told reporters that the sanctions had no impact on Exxon’s business in Russia, The Associated Press reported at the time.
“There has been no impact on any of our business activities in Russia to this point, nor has there been any discernible impact on the relationship,” he told reporters in 2014, the AP reported. “The organizations continue to work business as usual.”
Tillerson also said that he believed sanctions were ineffective and opposes them. He said he spoke with U.S. officials about his views.
But as 2014 continued, Exxon did start to feel the effects of sanctions. As Bloomberg reports, Exxon could not continue drilling at a well a mile below the surface off the Siberian coast. It was estimated that the well could have pumped out a billion barrels, worth about $97 billion at the time. After the sanctions were imposed, Exxon packed up the drilling rig.
In October 2016, OilPrice.com reported that ExxonMobil lost $1 billion due to the sanctions.
When The Wall Street Journal reported on December 6 that Tillerson was being considered for a role in the Trump administration, the paper noted that most of his holdings of Exxon shares won’t vest for a decade and the value of these would only go up if Russian sanctions were dropped.
Tillerson was also back in Russia in June for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum for the first time in two years, Reuters reported.
Arizona Senator John McCain told Fox News that Tillerson’s ties to Putin and Russia are concerning.
“I’d have to examine it,” McCain said. “You want to give the president of the United States the benefit of the doubt because the people have spoken. But Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”
Mark Salter, who was an aide for McCain, tweeted that Tillerson would “sell out NATO for Sakhalin oil and his pal, Vlad.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio also tweeted that he isn’t happy with the idea of a “friend of Vladimir” being a Secretary of State.”
In an interview with CBS News, McCain reiterated his concern of Tillerson’s close relationship with Putin.
“It’s a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin,” McCain told CBS News. “And obviously they’ve done enormous deals together and that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan voiced his support for the pick, congratulating Tillerson.
Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also backed Tillerson’s nomination in a Facebook post. Politico reports that Rice and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggested Tillerson to Trump during their meetings at Trump Tower. Exxon Mobil is a client for both of their private consulting firms.
2. Tillerson Supports a Carbon Tax, But Also Said That the World Will Continue Using Fossil Fuels, ‘Whether They Like It or Not’
As a giant in the oil industry, Exxon has long been the target of environmentalists. The company tries to combat this by saying it supports a carbon tax, but as The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2016, the company hasn’t been actively pushing for it. Exxon frequently cites a 2009 speech Tillerson gave to show that he has supported a carbon tax for several years.
Tillerson said in the speech:
As a businessman it is hard to speak favorably about any new tax. But a carbon tax strikes me as a more direct … a more transparent … and a more effective approach. It avoids the costs and complexity of having to build a new market for securities traders or the necessity of adding a new layer of regulators and administrators to police companies and consumers. And a carbon tax can be more easily implemented. It could be levied under the current tax code without requiring significant new infrastructure or enforcement bureaucracies.
A carbon tax is also the most efficient means of reflecting the cost of carbon in all economic decisions – from investments made by companies to fuel their requirements to the product choices made by consumers.
However, their support of an effort to curb global warming doesn’t mean that Tillerson believes fossil fuels will really go out of fashion. “The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not,” Tillerson said at an investors meeting in May 2016, the Financial Times’ Ed Crooks told Newsweek.
During this meeting, 81 percent of shareholders voted against Exxon publicly supporting the Paris Climate Agreement.
In November 2015, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into ExxonMobil to learn if they lied to investors about climate change, USA Today reported at the time. Schneiderman issued subpoenas for internal documents.
“The charges are pretty unfounded, without any substance at all,” Tillerson told Fox News after Schneiderman launched his investigation. “And they’re dealing with a period of time that happened decades ago, so there’s a lot I could say about it. I’m not sure how helpful it would be for me to talk about it.”
During ExxonMobil’s annual meeting in May 2015, Tillerson explained why the company won’t invest in renewable energy. “We choose not to lose money on purpose,” he said, reports Politico.
“Mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity,” Tillerson said during that meeting, citing technology that combats inclement weather “that may or may not be induced by climate change.”
In a filing to the SEC on this meeting, the company explained why investors voted against adding an environmental specialist to the board.
“To set aside one seat for an environmental specialist or for any single attribute or area of expertise would, in our view, not be in the best interest of the Company or its shareholders because it would dilute the breadth needed by all directors to make informed decisions for the Company,” the statement read.
Greenpeace USA issued a statement about Tillerson’s potential nomination from Greenpeace USA Spokesperson Cassady Craighill. It reads:
Just when we thought Trump’s cabinet could not get farther away from the needs of the American people, he sneaks in a Saturday appointment of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. In this position, Tillerson will try his hardest to silence global initiatives and the right of state attorney generals to hold fossil fuel companies legally accountable for climate change. We will not be silenced, and we will not allow this cabinet of billionaires to steamroll the people.
If the U.S. Senate has any interest is protecting science, public dissent and the future of the human race, they should not confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. If climate change denial is going to the default position of the Trump White House, then relentless resistance will be the default position of the American people.
3. Tillerson Has Supported Free Trade, Which Trump Railed Against During the Election
While Trump spent time on the campaign trail criticizing trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, Tillerson has supported free trade in the past. That makes sense, since Exxon has operations on all six continents and in over 50 countries.
In a 2009 speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Tillerson pushed for more free trade agreements.
Here’s what Tillerson said on free trade in the speech:
The need for international cooperation provides another opportunity for government to exercise a unique and positive role – by fostering free trade. We know from history that innovation and economic progress depend on the free flow of goods, services, capital and expertise across borders.
By enabling advanced economies and innovative companies to create partnerships, work across borders, and train local populations, government can support the most efficient use of resources and human capital. And as we confront our current economic challenges, Congress must resist the urge to turn its back on these proven policies. The United States cannot afford to raise barriers to trade.
History reminds us that governmental policies that limit free markets and free trade can lead to a prolonged stagnation and substantial job losses – especially during times of economic weakness and recession.
This isn’t a view that Tillerson has moved away from. During a keynote speech at the IHS CERAweek event in Houston in 2015, he advocated for free trade in energy.
“Our industry continues to struggle under the weight of policies that are the products of 1970’s thinking. This must change,” he said. “Free trade in energy will lead to increased investment, job creation and energy production.”
A USA Today report published on January 9 found that Securities and Exchange Commission filings show that Infineum, a European company ExxonMobil owns a 50 percent share of, conducted business in Iran. ExxonMobol told USA Today that the deals weren’t illegal because Infineum is based in Europe and the deal never directly involved U.S. employees.
The deals in 2003, 2004 and 2005 happened while Tillerson was at ExxonMovil. He was president and director in 2004 and made CEO in January 2006.
4. Tillerson Was President of Boy Scouts of America & Pushed for Openly Gay Youths to be Allowed to Join
Although Tillerson has spent his entire business career at Exxon, he has found time for other activities, including continuing his support for Boy Scouts of America. As the Dallas Morning News reported in a profile of Tillerson, he was president of the organization from 2010 to 2012.
During his tenure, he convinced the Boy Scouts to allow openly gay youths to join, but it wasn’t until July 2015 that the ban on gay adult troop leaders was lifted.
“He was instrumental in leading the organization through an important period of growth and development, while upholding the long-standing traditions of character and good citizenship that are essential to Scouting’s mission,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement to USA Today on December 5.
Despite Tillerson’s support for gays in the Boy Scouts, it wasn’t until January 2015 that Exxon finally changed its Equal Employment Opportunity policy to include banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Human Rights Campaign reported.
Tillerson will also be leaving his current job in March, even if he isn’t chosen as Trump’s Secretary of State. Bloomberg reported in December 2015 that Darren Woods was promoted to president, making him the possible replacement for Tillerson.
In a 2015 op-ed for Fortune, Tillerson said that one of his first jobs, before he reached Exxon, was as a university janitor. He explained why integrity was the most important value to him.
“For leaders at all levels, it is also important to remember that integrity is universally valued,: Tillerson wrote in Fortune. “In a global economy, integrity crosses cultures and enables visionary international partnerships and joint ventures to advance and succeed. A shared focus on integrity makes trust and cooperation possible and enables employees taking on ambitious projects to honestly assess their performance, helping them to innovate and to improve constantly.”
5. Tillerson Has Zero Experience in Government or as a Diplomat, Unlike Past Secretaries of State
When The Wall Street Journal first reported that Tillerson was being considered for Secretary of State, the paper noted that Exxon executives – and even Tillerson himself – were surprised.
After all, Tillerson has no experience at any level of government. He’s spent his entire business career with one company. He has represented Exxon on an international stage, but he’s never had to represent the interests of his country.
By comparison, past Secretaries of State have had government experience. Both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry served in the U.S. Senate before President Barack Obama named them Secretary of State. Colin Powell was a four-star General and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while Condoleeza Rice was on the National Security Council under George H.W. Bush and was President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor before they made George W. Bush’s Secretaries of State.
According to Tillerson’s company bio, he has a degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and joined Exxon in 1975 as a production manager. He climbed the ranks, ultimately becoming president of Exxon Neftegas Limited in 1998, which was when he first started working in Russia. He’s been CEO of the company since January 1, 2006.
The Journal also reports that Tillerson’s political positions on issues aside from free trade are mostly unknown, although he is described as a “staunch conservative.” The Dallas Morning News reports that he supported Jeb Bush during the early days of the Republican presidential race.
Tillerson’s 2012 talk at the Council on Foreign Relations gives a look at his worldview, albeit one that mostly revolves around the oil business.
“You know, if you ask the average person on the street about U.S. energy, and U.S. oil, in particular, our situation, most Americans would say, oh, we’re energy poor; we don’t have enough oil, we don’t have enough natural gas,” Tillerson said in that talk in 2012. “And that’s been the line for years and years. And yet the United States today remains the third-largest oil producer in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia and Russia, and a sizable gap between numbers four, five and six. We are an energy leader in oil production in the world. And if you look at the remaining resource base in the United States, adding in now what we know we can recover through these technology applications, we have sufficient resources to carry us well into the latter part of this century at current production rates.”
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