President-elect Donald Trump tapped Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation.
Like many of Trump’s picks and the president-elect himself, Tillerson has no formal experience working in government. But Trumppraised Tillerson’s “hard work, dedication and smart deal making” in a statement released by his transition team.
Tillersonis well-known among energy activists and executives, but isn’t a household name across the country. The Texas nativehas been with Exxon since 1975, and worked as an executive with the energy company during its 1999 merger with Mobil. Here’s a brief look at the life and career of theman who will be the nation’s top diplomat.
1. Tillersonhas conducted business with foreign governments for nearly 20 years, and has ties to Russia’s government.
His resume boasts of deals with Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea on behalf of ExxonMobil, to which he was named chief executive officer in 2006.
Through that work, Tillersondeveloped friendly relations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin,who awarded Tillerson with the Order of Friendship in 2013. The honor is designed to reward foreign nationals who work toward improving relations with Russia and its people. But the CEO’s cozy relationship with Russia has been cause for concern in recent weeks.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, told Fox News, “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.”
McCain’s former aide Mark Salter later tweeted that Tillerson would “sell out NATO for Sakhalin oil and his pal, Vlad.”
2. He steered the Boy Scouts of America to accept gay members.
Tillerson has long been associated with the Boy Scouts of America, and from 2010 to 2012 he served as its nationalpresident. After stepping down, he remained on the National Executive Board.
In 2013, the BSA announced that it would no longer deny youth membership based on sexual orientation, a move orchestrated by Tillerson during his time as the organization’s president.
But Exxon has defied calls to add sexual orientation to its equal employment opportunity statement, even as the majority of other Fortune 500 companies have.
3. Tillerson supports the continued use of fossil fuels and a carbon tax.
At a 2016 investors meeting, Tillersonseemed unphased at the impact climate change may have on the business: “The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not,” he said, Financial Times energy editor Ed Crooks told Newsweek.
A carbon tax, which would hold users of fossil fuels financially accountable for climate damage, is something Tillerson has advocated for, though Exxon isn’t actively pushing for its implementation. In a 2009 speech, the CEO said, “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.”
4. He supports free trade — which Trump does not.
In the same 2009 speech, Tillerson said the United States “should press forward with free trade,” adding that “innovation and economic progress depend on the free flow of goods, services, capital and expertise across borders.”
On the campaign trail, Trump was a frequent critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), calling it the “worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere.” Trump added that NAFTA, which President Bill Clinton signed, dramatically manufacturing jobs by 30 to 50 percent.
Trump has also said he wants to renegotiate or “terminate” the agreement, or impose a 35 percent tax on goods, including Ford vehicles that are manufactured in Mexico and sold in the United States.