Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, is President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, a unique choice to lead the State Department. His work in international energy matters through the private sector has involved deals and talks with national leaders throughout the world, including the Middle East and Russia.
Critics raise questions about his lack of experience in a government role, but some observers point out that his worldwide dealings have provided him with valuable connections that could help bolster U.S. foreign relations.
Here are five things to know about Rex Tillerson:
1. A bridge to Russia — Tillerson has had a close association with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than two decades, according to The New York Times; he was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013. It could have a significant impact on U.S.-Russian relations, which have deteriorated in recent years with tensions in eastern Ukraine and Syria. At a company meeting in 2014, Tillerson argued against U.S. economic sanctions for Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported, saying such decisions should “consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming with sanctions."
2. He's spent his entire career with Exxon — The Wichita Falls, Texas, native, 64, began working for the oil giant in 1975 as a production engineer after receiving a science degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. After positions as general manager of the company’s central production division, production advisor, and chief operator of ventures in Yemen, Russia, and the Caspian Sea, he was named Exxon’s CEO in 2006. He is set to retire from the corporation next year.
3. Diplomatic experience — Although he hasn’t held a government position, he has experience in diplomacy as the head of Exxon, Forbes notes. Tillerson has the ability to understand foreign leaders because of past dealings with them. Knowing the motivations of many world leaders, he could convince them to work with the U.S. to its benefit.
4. Negotiating skills — Tillerson has been in charge of negotiating teams for Exxon that have had to reach agreements with international companies and conglomerates. These negotiations have also involved foreign nations and the U.S. government. Under his leadership, Exxon has successfully dealt with energy policies, labor concerns, and transportation contracts.
5. Boy Scout leadership — As president of the Boy Scouts of America, Tillerson was influential in the organization’s decision to change its policy and allow gay members, The Washington Post reported. Young Tillerson became an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts.
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