Just over a month after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was elected to become the next president of the United States, he has made his selection for secretary of state.
Trump chose Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to lead his State Department.
Tillerson has close ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, which is certain to draw scrutiny and fuel a potential Senate confirmation fight.
Leading Republicans have already expressed anxieties as they contend with intelligence assessments saying Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election to help Trump.
“Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream. Through hard work, dedication and smart deal making, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies,” the billionaire real estate mogul said in a pre-dawn news release from Trump Tower in New York.
Tillerson has been with the Texas-based company since 1975. He rose to prominence through Exxon’s Russian energy business and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship. He has argued against sanctions the U.S. and European allies imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The 64-year-old is a Texas native who joined Exxon straight out of college and never left.
Exxon also has operations in Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and many other countries. Africa and Asia were its leading sources of oil production in 2015, ahead of the U.S. The company says it has a diverse portfolio of oil and gas projects around the world to mitigate risks, including political ones.
Tillerson has held posts in the company’s operations in both Yemen and Russia. Success in the latter post required aligning the company’s interests with that of the Russian government.
Early in the company’s efforts to gain access to Russian market, Tillerson cut a deal with state-owned Rosneft. The neglected post-Soviet company didn’t have a tremendous amount to offer, but Exxon partnered with it “to be on the same side of the table,” Tillerson said, according to Private Empire, an investigative history of Exxon by reporter Steve Coll.
Tillerson, who became CEO on Jan. 1, 2006, is expected to retire in 2017.
His heir apparent, Darren Woods, was put in place a year ago.
Trump tweeted that he would make his selection official Tuesday, but it was already clear Sunday that Tillerson was one of the favorites.
The selection of Tillerson means that former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will not be named to the position, despite being named a favorite at one time. He confirmed he wasn’t going to be named secretary of state Monday night through his Facebook account.