Tillerson running State Dept. like Exxon Mobil is good for America

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The nomination of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to head the Department of State speaks volumes on President-elect Donald Trump’s worldview and political philosophy. Trump eschewed the political establishment by tapping a man with a vast, but unconventional, reservoir of global experience.

For decades, Tillerson has been dealing head-to-head, and peer-to-peer, with world business and political leaders on consequential issues of trade and commerce. It is a background that has prepared him, somewhat uniquely, to assume the mantle of America’s top diplomat.

While some blithely suggest that Tillerson is a foreign policy rookie, the successful businessman has been at the helm of a global organization whose revenues and resources eclipse the gross domestic product of most nations. Overcoming the persistent set of problems facing all transnational corporations, Exxon Mobil has managed its international operations capably.

In many of the regions where the company operates, Tillerson has had to address the intractable challenges of globalism: corruption, climate, environmental spoliation, labor and human rights, conflict, security, and sustainability.

{mosads}At the same time, Tillerson has managed a diverse, global workforce of nearly 75,000 people across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, and Antarctica. In addition to dealing with global corporate affairs, Tillerson has effectively balanced the often-competing demands of retail consumers and institutional investors, at the same time as he advanced shareholder value year-over-year.


There have been 68 previous secretaries of state. No. 26, Hamilton Fish, served from 1869 to 1872 after managing his family’s vast wealth and resources. No. 40, Philander Chase Knox, served from 1909 to 1913. Knox was an international lawyer and played a key business role with the Carnegie Steel Corporation, and later the U.S. Steel Corporation. No. 42, Robert Lansing, another international lawyer, served from 1915 to 1920, negotiating for the U.S. government on a number of big-dollar transactions.

Beyond this handful of businessmen-turned-diplomats — and Thomas Jefferson himself — remarkably few have gone to Foggy Bottom with comparable skills and experience as Rex Tillerson.

Much is being made of Tillerson’s warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rightfully so.

It is a matter which should be thoroughly vetted and monitored by Congress. But to be fair, in forging close ties with Russia, Tillerson was doing nothing more than any prudent CEO of the No. 2 Fortune 500 company should have done to keep up with a major competitor and customer. Perhaps Tillerson learned the same thing as Michael Corleone did from Don Vito in “The Godfather”: “You keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

Nonetheless, Tillerson has shown a keen ability to navigate tricky international waters. As the nation’s leading energy company, Exxon Mobil — and Tillerson — deserves the benefit of the doubt that their corporate pursuits have not been inconsistent with America’s national foreign policy interests.

With Trump and Tillerson leading foreign relations, we are entering an era of “transactional diplomacy” that is sure to upend the status quo. If Tillerson runs the State Department like he ran Exxon Mobil, America’s role and reputation on the world stage could improve and respect could be restored to U.S. foreign policy.

Whatever the nature of Tillerson’s erstwhile dealings with Putin, that will fundamentally change once he is confirmed as the 69th secretary of State. The insights he has developed into Putin and other leaders from both the developed and developing world should become a beacon for forthcoming foreign policy decisions to be faced by the new administration.

Both Trump and the 115th Congress would do well to learn from Tillerson’s success and should heed his Warren Buffet-like advice on diplomacy, trade and world affairs.

If we have learned anything from the unprecedented presidential campaign of 2016, it is this: Sagacious wisdom is not confined to the power corridors of New York and Washington. It emanates from the outer corners of the nation, and resides in some of the most unlikely places.

Even though he is not your typical diplomat, there is nothing wrong with Rex Tillerson leading American foreign policy.

Adonis Hoffman is chairman of Business in the Public Interest and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He served as counsel to the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs in the 102nd Congress.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Department of State Diplomacy diplomat Donald Trump Exxon Mobil Foreign policy foreign relations oil Russia State Department
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