Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE, Trump’s Secretary of State-designate, has plenty of negotiation experience from his time as CEO of ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded company in the world.
He struck oil in the Arctic, signed deals with Yemen and has worked with about a third of countries around the globe. To that end, he's made a particularly strong alliance with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Hot mic catches Queen criticizing 'irritating' climate inaction Putin directs sexist remark at US anchor Navalny, Afghan women among those under consideration for EU human rights prize MORE.
Although the job is not an automatic path to the presidency, as it was in the nascent days Secretaries of State Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, the U.S. Constitution does put the holder of the job in line to be President and, therefore, his or her skills must be strong enough to lead the country.
The U.S. Constitution, in Article II, and in the 20th and 25th Amendment, and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 mandate the order of succession in the event that the president cannot carry out his duties -- vice president, speaker of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate, and secretary of state.
In the New Yorker, Steve Coll, who wrote a book detailing Tillerson’s career -- Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power -- wrote that Tillerson built a “transnational corporate sovereign” that assessed many countries’ stability.
ExxonMobil has a structure not unlike the State Department, with risk assessment and intelligence offices that employ many former government workers.
At State, Tillerson will be tasked with the mandates of his president-elect, which are rattling some established circles already. He will have to negotiate the delicate shift in U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan; he may have to deal with the fallout should Trump decide to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and he will be involved with Mexico on the building of a wall.
In addition, Tillerson will be responsible for cybersecurity, counterterrorism, the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, international trade, climate shifts, immigration and the Russia reset.
He already has a long list of supporters and detractors and has experience in commercial diplomacy, if not government service.
The question for senators who must consent to his appointment is whether he can convert his business acumen into diplomatic statecraft.
Statecraft involves some skills distinctively different from those of a business leader.
However, the affairs of state can be helped by an adroit team of deputies and advisors and Tillerson is not the first secretary of state to have a career in the private sector.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second Secretary of State, Edward R. Stettinius Jr., had a four-year stint in war-related government work and was Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s deputy, but came from a career with General Motors and U.S. Steel.
George P. Schultz had a career with the Bechtel Corporation and served as president of Bechtel Group, Inc. before he became Secretary of Labor and Treasury.
When now-retired history professor David L. Porter, faculty emeritus at William Penn College in Iowa, conducted a survey of diplomatic historians of the best secretaries of state up to 1980, the top three, in order, were John Quincy Adams, William H. Seward and Hamilton Fish.
The criteria included the success in defining and achieving diplomatic goals, the political and moral leadership in foreign affairs and the impact of his actions on the course of American history.
Of the sixty-seven secretaries of state, Tillerson will be the first to not have any experience working in government. Most former secretaries of state served in the executive branch or were governors or elected officials.
In confirmation hearings with Mr. Tillerson, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will, undoubtedly, question him on his relationships with Russia, Chad, Nigeria, Indonesia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iran and Angola.
They may also ask about his views on the Boy Scouts of America and climate change. Tillerson, it has been said in recent days, will have to explain his complicated business relationships in Russia and with Russian oil giant, Rosneft, to the committee.
Former Secretary of State James Baker III is a self-described friend of Tillerson. He praised Tillerson's management and negotiation skills, saying, “You know what your country’s national interest is and what our principles and values are and you cut a deal. You don’t give those away just because you have a relationship with the other side of the table.”
The jury is still out on how Rex Tillerson presents his ability to lead the state, but he will have to surround himself with knowledgeable deputies. He needs to understand both the power and the consequences, of leading U.S. foreign policy.
If he does that, his confirmation hearings may not be bruising.
Pamela Falk, a reporter and academic, is former staff director of a subcommittee of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee and holds a J.D. from Columbia School of Law and a Ph.D. from New York University. She can be reached @PamelaFalk.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.