ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has helmed the energy giant for the last decade and struck deals around the world, is expected to be President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, transition officials told media on Saturday.
The 64-year-old Texas native has no governing or diplomatic experience, and has spent the entirety of his career at Exxon, where he began as a production engineer in 1975 after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a civil engineering degree.
The foundation for Tillerson’s knowledge of foreign diplomacy is thought to be his extensive experience traveling across the the world for Exxon, which has operations in more than 50 countries, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Already, his dealmaking history has begun to draw criticism – through his work at Exxon, Tillerson has cultivated longstanding ties to the Russian government that date back to the 1990s.
Tillerson has struck several major deals with the Russian state-run corporation Rosneft and has a personal relationship with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, who in 2013 awarded him the country’s Order of Friendship.
Tillerson’s appointment is also drawing scrutiny for the potential for conflicts of interest; Exxon’s global operations are extensive, and Tillerson owns company shares worth $151 million, according to securities filings reviewed by the Journal.
Those shares would become more valuable in the event that the United States, for example, lifted sanctions against Russia, which in turn had froze Exxon’s Arctic agreement, as the Washington Post noted.
But Tillerson’s travel and dealmaking for Exxon is what seemingly appeals to Trump – he has publicly praised Tillerson as a “world-class player,” and has expressed admiration for the way Exxon has been managed under his leadership.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 10, 2016
“In his case, he’s much more than a business executive,” Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace in an interview that will be aired Sunday.
“To me, a big advantage is that he knows many of the players, and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals – not for himself, but for the company.”
Not all of Tillerson’s views align perfectly with Trump’s. Tillerson has said he believes that humans have contributed to climate change, which Donald Trump once called a hoax created by the Chinese “to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”
Under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon has committed to “reducing the risk of climate change in the most efficient way for society.”
Tillerson is also big supporter of free trade, and has said that “the global free market for energy provides the most effective means of achieving U.S. energy security.” As Bloomberg’s Liam Denning noted, Trump has said he supports increased protectionism and tariffs, which “marks one of the clearest divides between his populist base and Republican orthodoxy.”
“If Tillerson plays a role, however, his public statements suggest he would argue against the risk of a trade war,” Denning added.
Tillerson has also expressed his frustration with government regulation of his company, telling The Wall Street Journal in 2012 that “there are a thousand ways you can be told ‘no’ in this country.”
Trump tweeted last week that companies attempting to outsource jobs will face “retribution,” which critics slammed as government overreach into the private sector.
Tillerson’s name was unexpectedly floated in recent days as a top contender for the spot, alongside retired Gen. David Petraeus and former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani took himself out of the running on Friday.
Tillerson met with Trump for more than two hours on Saturday, the New York Times reported. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have described Tillerson as being in a “different league” from the other contenders.
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