Rex Tillerson: Everything You Need to Know About the New Secretary of State

Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was confirmed today as the new secretary of state by a vote of 56 to 43 in the Senate. Four Democrats and all Republican senators voted in favor of President Donald Trump’s pick to be the nation’s top diplomat.


Trump settled on Tillerson to lead the state department after a long and high-profile search.

“Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none. I can think of no one more prepared, and no one more dedicated, to serve as Secretary of State at this critical time in our history,” Trump said in a Dec. 13 statement.

Tillerson has ample experience in international negotiations. However, he also has a history of close ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, which came up during his confirmation hearings.

Here’s everything you need to know about this administration’s secretary of state.

Name: Rex Wayne Tillerson

Age: 64 (born March 23, 1952)

Family: Married with four children

What he used to do: Tillerson joined ExxonMobil in 1975 as a production engineer. He rose through the ranks, becoming general manager in 1989 and production adviser to the Exxon Corp. in 1992. In 1998 he became vice president of Exxon Ventures and president of Exxon Neftegas Limited, where he was responsible for the company’s holdings in Russia, including the Caspian Sea and the Sakhalin Island area. By August of 2001, he was promoted to senior vice president of the ExxonMobil Corp. and became CEO of ExxonMobil in 2006. He has not had any previous public sector experience.

Education: B.S., civil engineering, University of Texas at Austin

Relationship with Trump: Tillerson emerged as a late contender on what seemed to be an ever expanding list of possible nominees for secretary of state. He met with Trump on Dec. 6, and the two convened for a second time on Dec. 10. Tillerson has a history of donating to Republicans in recent years. According to Federal Election Commission filings, he donated $50,000 to Mitt Romney’s presidential victory fund in 2012 and gave $5,000 to Right to Rise, a super PAC backing Jeb Bush, in August 2015. But his FEC records do not show any donations to Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Trump and Exxon relationship: Trump owned ExxonMobil stock. His 2015 financial disclosure filing lists $50,000 to $100,000 worth of assets in ExxonMobil.

Things you might not know about him: When he was CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson was No. 20 on Forbes’ most powerful people list in 2015.

He has a strong relationship with Russia:

Tillerson’s business relationship with Russia dates to the 1990s, when he assumed responsibility for all of ExxonMobil’s holdings there. In 2011 the company forged a deal with Russian oil company Rosneft, which at that time was 75 percent owned by the Russian government. The deal gave ExxonMobil access to Arctic oil deposits, and Putin attended the signing ceremony. In 2013 the two companies expanded their partnership. That year, Tillerson received the Order of Friendship from Putin.

(L-R) ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, Krasnodar region Governor Alexander Tkachev and Russian President Vladimir Putin are pictured in western Siberia at the Tuapse Refinery in Tuapse, Krasnodar region, Russia, June 15, 2012.

In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, Exxon was forced to halt the deal because of U.S. sanctions. Although ExxonMobil put out a press release saying it was “winding down” its operations after the sanctions, Tillerson reportedly called sanctions “ineffective” at a 2014 shareholders meeting.

“We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively, and that’s a very hard thing to do,” he said at that meeting, according to The Dallas Business Journal.

An ABC News search found that Rosneft sanctions are still listed in a Treasury Department database of sanctions.

Tillerson’s relationship with Russia was a focal point in his confirmation hearings with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.

He referred to economic sanctions against Russia as a “powerful tool” and rejected the claims that he and ExxonMobil, under his leadership, lobbied against them to advance the company’s financial interests.

When grilled by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, as to whether Putin should be labeled a war criminal, Tillerson said, “I would not use that term.” Tillerson was also reluctant to call Putin a war criminal for his brutal bombing campaign targeting innocent civilians and hospitals inside anti-rebel held areas of Syria.

He did, however, acknowledge that Putin was behind the hackings intending to influence the U.S. election.

Climate change:

Although Tillerson has acknowledged climate change is a problem, ExxonMobil was the subject of controversy at its shareholders meeting last year for rejecting resolutions that would have pushed the company’s resources toward renewable energy, according to a Washington Post article.

“We have to have some technology breakthroughs, but in the meantime, just saying ‘turn the taps off’ is not acceptable to humanity,” he said at the meeting, according to The Washington Post.

At least five attorneys general were investigating the company’s climate change policies as of spring 2016, including New York’s Eric Schneiderman, who oversaw a now settled lawsuit against Trump University, according to the Post.

Tillerson’s confirmation has already drawn the ire of environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

“It’s unconscionable that the Senate confirmed an oil executive to be America’s ambassador to the world. And yet, that’s exactly what they have done,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune wrote in a statement.

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