Reports suggest that the next US Secretary of State will be the current boss of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, and with the news breaks controversy over his relationship with Vladimir Putin and his attitude towards climate change. Meanwhile, Donald Trump says something odd.
"He is much more than a business executive. He is a world class player. He is in charge of, I guess, the largest company in the world," said President Elect Trump, talking about Rex Tillerson, in a recent interview on Fox News.
It was an odd thing to say because Exxon Mobil is not the largest company in the world by any criteria. By market cap, it is in sixth place, behind five rather well-known techs. Look at annual profits, then last year it was in ninth-spot, and by revenue, it is in fifth-spot. The largest company in the world by market cap and profits is Apple, State Grid is the biggest by revenue. In fact, Exxon Mobil is not even the biggest oil company in the world by revenue, that description belongs to Royal Dutch Shell.
But then we live in an age when little things like facts seem to be of little importance.
As an aside, we see a similar matter relating to allegations of Russian involvement in the US election. In an interview with Time Magazine, following comments by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who said he had 'high confidence' that Russia was behind hacks during the US election, Mr Trump said: “I don't believe they interfered... it could be Russia, and it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey."
It boils down to finding convenient truths. Mr Trump seems keen to mend fences with Russia – and cast China, through its trade policy as the enemy – and Rex Tillerson is a man who has worked with Russia for many years, and has dealt with Vladimir Putin.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Henry Kissinger is just about the only US citizen who knows Mr Putin better than Mr Tillerson does– indeed the oil man has known the Russian president since the days of the Boris Yeltsin’s premiership back in the 1990s. In fact, Mr Putin personally awarded the Exxon man the Russian ‘Order of Friendship’.
Then there is the issue of climate change. There are those who sit in the climate change camp who blame Exxon for many of the problems facing the world. After-all reports suggest that the oil company’s own research had found a link between fossil fuels and global warming as early as 1977, but many have accused Exxon, along with a handful of others, of being behind propaganda, seeking to deny climate change.
Exxon has recently changed tune, and has been quite vociferous in acknowledging a link between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels, and came out in support of the recent Paris Accord. This happened under Rex Tillerson’s stewardship of the company. Then again, he has been CEO since 2006, so he was also at the helm during that period when it is alleged that Exxon Mobil supported climate change denial.
What we do know is that Mr Tillerson has stock in Exxon Mobil and certainly – assuming he does not sell all his shares before taking up office – has a financial incentive to support legislation and diplomatic moves that benefit the oil company – whether he would, is another matter entirely, after-all, Mr Trump has suggested that under his leadership corruption in the US government will be a thing of the past.
But we also know that Mr Tillerson is pro-free trade – and presumably as the soon to be former CEO of Exxon Mobil, pro-globalisation – not positions that are supportive with the Trump rhetoric during the election campaign.
Still, what with ex-Goldman Sachs man Steve Mnuchin to take on the role of US Treasury Secretary, it is good to see Mr Trump stick to his pre-election promises and move away from appointing the elites into top jobs, and breaking the tradition of moving ex-investment bankers into the position of Treasury Secretary, or men with vested interests into the position of Secretary of State.
George Dubya Bush was similarly keen to avoid such accusations when he appointed Ex-Halliburton man, Dick Chaney as his running mate.