Monday, June 26, 2017

How Is Our Former EXXON CEO Doing As Secretary Of State?

I recently had a conversation with a woman who started as an intern in the State Department and has worked her way up to an important position in the department.  When I asked her how things were going under Tillerson she shook her head and unloaded her views on his performance. I had wondered about how a powerful CEO, with global experience, would adapt to his new role. Her views were similar to those expressed in this article.

The conservative Heritage Foundation recommended Tillerson for the job, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner said that Tillerson was "in another league" compared to other candidates that he had interviewed.  Tillerson also fit well into Trump's preference for business experience over government experience.  It also must have pleased him to have the CEO of one of the world's largest corporations work under him.  Trump's business experience is minor league compared to Tillerson's.  Unfortunately, it looks like Tillerson was a bad choice for the job.  His experience as a powerful CEO did not prepare him well for his position of Secretary of State.

Tillerson must have been good at working with the Board at Exxon which appointed him as CEO, and which was responsible for monitoring his performance.  It turns out that he not been good at managing his Board in the White House.  Jared Kushner has played a more important role than Tillerson in the Mid-East.  Kushner picked the right horse in Saudi Arabia and Tillerson did not want the government to get between Saudi Arabia and Qatar during its current dispute over Qatar's role in supporting terrorism.  Trump, as Chairman of Tillerson's Board, has publically sided with Saudi Arabia along with other Board members like Kushner and Bannon who operate out of the White House.

Tillerson has not only lost the support of his Board in the White House,  he seems to have been missing-in-action in the State Department.  One of his priorities has been to reduce the head count in the State Department and cut costs.  That is a popular move by new CEO's in business.  They often take steps to cut costs and improve profits.  Tillerson's cost cutting operation, taken before he had gained experience with his new organization, has not been well received internally or externally.  It has also badly harmed the moral of professionals in State who are rarely consulted prior to Tillerson's decisions in areas where he has no experience.  He seems to have isolated himself in his office along with a small team of his admirers.

The Washington Post's report card for Tillerson does not auger well for him.  Whether we like it or not the Washington Post provides critical information about government performance.  Tillerson seems to have also failed to establish a relationship with reporters who can make or break political leaders in Washington.  When Tillerson retired from EXXON he was rewarded by his Board with a package typical of those received by retiring lords of major corporations.  Its unlikely that his retirement from his current job will be a pleasant experience.  His inability to manage his Board in the White House will eventually end his brief experiment in government.

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