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Exxon’s chief executive Rex Tillerson has emerged as a clear frontrunner in the race for the job of Secretary of State, with a Donald Trump transition team member telling media on Saturday that he will be picked for the job, and will soon be made official.
In a Sunday interview with Fox, however, the President-elect himself said he has not yet made the final decision, while praising Tillerson for his managerial experience at the helm of one of the biggest companies in the world, noting the relevance of this experience in a public office. Calling him “a world class player,” Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that one of Tillerson’s great advantages was that he knew “many of the players” on the world’s political scene, and he knew them well.
Experience as the boss of the largest public energy company in the world is Tillerson’s main advantage, it seems, as it involves so many of the skills needed for success in the State Department, too, such as managing a multi-billion-dollar operation and negotiating what the President-elect called “massive deals”.
Tillerson has spent his entire working life at ExxonMobil, and has no public-sector experience. The pick aligns with Trump’s propensity for bucking the way things have worked in the past, and for forging ahead in his own way and surprising many with his cabinet picks thus far.
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Although Tillerson’s relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is causing a media frenzy, this connection is perceived positively by the Trump camp. Democrats and even some Republicans have argued that this relationship constitutes a conflict of interest, with Senator Bob Menendez calling him “a willing accomplice [of Russia] in the president’s cabinet guiding our nation’s foreign policy.”
Putin ties aside, critics also claim that it may be difficult for Tillerson to completely sever his ties with his employer of 40 years, Exxon, in which he holds a stake in the company plus vesting options. Forbes’ Ellen R. Wald, however, notes that he would be by no means the first private sector appointment in the government, so this particular argument about a conflict of interest is pretty much a forced one.
Meanwhile, the energy sector is predictably enthusiastic. According to Rex Preston Stoner, a US-based energy consultant with HUB International, an informal poll of industry players in Texas and Oklahoma indicates “huge support” for the President-elect’s expected choice of the ExxonMobil chief for Secretary of State.
Like other analysts, Stoner notes the relevant corporate experience and international ties of Tillerson, adding on the disadvantage side the fact that he has no diplomatic experience and that his pro-energy stance could undermine green initiatives. His ties to Russia, he noted, are likely to unify Democratic and establishment Republican senators against him in a confirmation hearing.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.