Business

Why Rex Tillerson, Down-to-Earth Texan, Might Make a Good Secretary of State

Chairman and CEO of Irving's ExxonMobil said to represent "middle ground" between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson (right), no doubt deflecting another of Glenn Hunter's annoying requests for an interview.
ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson (right), no doubt deflecting another of Glenn Hunter’s annoying requests for an interview.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump announced the selection of ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state.

If Rex Tillerson is half as diplomatic with the Iranians as he’s been for years with me, good-naturedly turning aside request after request for an exclusive interview in D CEO magazine, he’ll make a great secretary of state. Word is the ExxonMobil chairman and chief executive is the odds-on favorite for that job in the Trump administration, potentially edging out—emphasis on the potentially—such heavyweight rivals as Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

For years I’d see Tillerson, usually surrounded by an entourage including bodyguards, at an annual banquet put on by the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth. Each year at the pre-dinner reception I’d maneuver in for the same ask: Would he consider sitting down for a Q&A interview with our publication? Each year Tillerson would grin affably and say, “Get in touch with our media relations people, and we’ll consider it.” Each year I would do just that and each year that’s where my email would seem to languish, never to be spoken about again.

That said, the leader of the world’s biggest publicly traded oil and gas company is impossible not to like in person. I explain that’s so because he’s a down-to-earth, plainspoken, pickup-truck-driving guy from the Texas Panhandle/Plains (specifically, from Wichita Falls) who came up from less-than-grandiose circumstances before rising through the ranks in the business world. In a written questionnaire he submitted for the 2017 edition of our Dallas 500 special publication, Tillerson talked some about that.

“When I was 14 years old, I became a bus boy in the student union building at Oklahoma State University,” he wrote. “Two years later, I became a janitor and was assigned to one of the engineering buildings. I swept floors, dumped trash, polished the linoleum floors, and cleaned the bathrooms. It helped reinforce the dignity and value of honest work. It also gave me my first exposure to engineers doing research and solving problems.”

Tillerson went on to graduate from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. degree in civil engineering, then joined Exxon as a production engineer in 1975. Because of his age—he’ll turn 65 in March—he’ll be forced to retire from the Irving-based energy giant at that time.

While Tillerson will have his critics if he’s nominated for the top job at the state department—he’s never worn the striped pants of a diplomat, they’ll say, he’s too close to Putin’s Russia, he doesn’t bow sufficiently at the altar of man-caused global warming, and so on—he would also bring considerable strengths. He’s savvy, reportedly with a long memory for detail. He knows how the world works (ExxonMobil navigates the political climate in 200 different countries and territories), and he’s said to be a tough, decisive leader. Just the type Trump may want to help him “make America great again.”

One Dallas businessperson who has watched him operate says Tillerson is an “interesting candidate” for the state department job. He is “really the middle ground between the best of Romney (smart, sophisticated, and ‘looks the part’) and Giuliani (tough and focused),” this observer says. “But, does he want to have the Senate libs beat him up under oath? Maybe?” If not I guess Tillerson can always retire to his farm, where he and his wife, Renda, raise cutting horses.

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Comments

  • Alex Muse

    Wow… surprising article! I’m hopeful he’ll do great.

  • OldLakeHighlander

    Nice Glenn. Both Fawning and Toady in the same article.

    • space2k

      And a photo of himself bothering an important person as a bonus!

  • claytonauger

    Not to mention he’s a Russian tool….

    • space2k

      Sure, but he’s a truck-drivin’ regular guy Russian tool.

  • Mavdog

    Waiting to hear how Mr. Tillerson will divest his holdings in Exxon stock, some of which won’t vest for about a decade. Oh and somehow removing all these friendships with those who benefit from a changed status of the Russian sanctions.
    Working with foreign groups when you are making them loads of money is a bit different than working with foreign groups with the goal of protecting America’s interests. Many times those are not aligned but are opposed.

    • MattL1

      Yeah, I don’t doubt Tillerson’s competence. My biggest concern, apart from the guy he’d be working for, is exactly what you mentioned.

    • RAB

      Tillerson will sell his Exxon stock after obtaining a Certificate of Divestiture from the Office of Government Ethics and will then get tax-free treatment on the sale under Section 1043 of the Internal Revenue Code (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/1043), like Hank Paulson did in 2006 with his $484 million in Goldman stock when he became Treasury Secretary.

      • Mavdog

        Paulson was vested in his Goldman Sachs stock when he was granted the Certificate. Tillerson is not vested in all of his stock, and unable to sell all of his awarded stock, for close to a decade according to the news articles.

      • Joe Bob

        That was a different era when politicians believed that ethical requirements applied to them. Trump does not and has no credible plan to deal with his incredible conflicts of interest. He has already used his power to obtain favor from multiple nations that will result in major cash influx for Trump brands. If Trump continues to ignore ethics, what evidence is there that his appointees will do otherwise?

    • DubiousBrother

      “Working with foreign groups when you are making them loads of money is a bit different than working with foreign groups with the goal of protecting America’s interests. Many times those are not aligned but are opposed.”
      Don’t worry, he will just set up a server in the bathroom of his basement to handle his emails and as long as it doesn’t get hacked we will never know about any conflicts as long as he launders his money through a family foundation.

      • Mavdog

        I can always expect that you will take a subject and turn it somewhere it shouldn’t go, with a dollop of inaccuracy to boot. Thanks for the lack of contribution!

        • DubiousBrother

          Sorry my comment went over your head. I forgot HuffPo didn’t cover the Bill and Hillary pay to play SOS / potential POTUS scheme they put together.

          • Mavdog

            The irony of you writing the phrase “over your head” is priceless.

  • Joe Bob

    Why he might not: Senator John McCain, a leading Republican foreign policy voice and his party’s 2008 nominee for president, told Reuters: “I have concerns. It’s very well known that he has a very close relationship with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin.”

    In 2013, Putin bestowed on Tillerson a Russian state honor, the Order of Friendship, citing his work “strengthening cooperation in the energy sector.”

    Tillerson’s “cozy ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia would represent an untenable conflict at the State Department,” Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.

    Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement he also had serious concerns.

    “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage,” Rubio said.