Tillerson Reminisces About Life at Exxon in Accepting Oil Award

  • ‘I miss all of you,’ diplomat tells World Petroleum Congress
  • Praise of industry employees echoes remarks at State

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reminisced fondly about his 41-year career with Exxon Mobil Corp. as he accepted an award on Sunday from the World Petroleum Council honoring his “outstanding contribution to the oil and gas industry.”

Flanked by huge model oil pipes on an enormous stage in a conference hall in Istanbul, Tillerson praised those working in the industry he helped shape during his decade as Exxon’s chief executive, and offered a few hints about his approach to foreign policy.

Rex Tillerson speaks during the 22nd World Petroleum Congress on July 9.

Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

Tillerson said success requires the rule of law, “a respect for contract sanctity, and a level of integrity between partners and counterparts” -- just the sort of issue that poses a challenge as he seeks to forge better U.S. ties with Russia and solve a diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf.

“I miss all of you,” Tillerson, 65, told the crowd. “I miss you as colleagues, I miss you as partners, I miss you as competitors, I miss the healthy debates, the collaboration, the breakthroughs that were achieved.”

Tillerson was the 10th recipient of the council’s Dewhurst Award during a whirlwind trip that has so far taken him to Germany, Ukraine and Turkey. He has a stop set in Kuwait on Monday and may make other stops in the region while attempting to tackle Qatar’s diplomatic isolation by a Saudi-led coalition. He also met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday.

In his short speech, Tillerson offered the sort of light touch and humor that critics at the vast government department he now leads say has been lacking.

‘Fishing Somewhere’

“When I was notified that I would receive this award not quite a year ago, I thought I would be interrupting my retirement, where I would likely be fishing somewhere in the mountains of North America,” Tillerson said to laughter. “It didn’t quite work out that way.”

Tillerson recused himself from decisions related his former employer for two years under President Donald Trump’s ethics order for appointees. His remarks echoed comments he has made at the State Department, where he’s emphasized that employees are its most important asset.

“What’s so extraordinary about this industry is all of you and all of those who stand behind you largely do it without notice from the public,” Tillerson said in accepting the award.

Tillerson also noted that the next World Petroleum Council conference is scheduled to be held in Houston in 2020, when Trump will be facing re-election if he chooses to seek a second term.

“On behalf of the United States, I hope I am there in 2020 -- I’ll be there, in some capacity, one way or another,” Tillerson said. “I am never going to forget my friends, my colleagues and my partners in this extraordinary industry delivering energy to the world. You are remarkable, all of you.”

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