Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Coll takes a close look at secretive behemoth that is Exxon Mobil.
“Presidents come and go; Exxon doesn’t come and go.”Skip to next paragraph
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So said Lee Raymond, the chief executive at ExxonMobil Corporation who retired in 2005. Raymond, known as “Iron Ass” for his combative disposition and demand for discipline throughout the ranks, embodies the defiance and dominance of the company that author Steve Coll labels a private empire in his masterful study.
In Private Empire – a book that, no doubt, will be described as exhaustive in reviews – Coll all but avoids dry holes in his wildcatting expedition to drill down into the story of a company that operates in many respects as its own nation. To cite but one of many examples, consider Raymond’s speech in 1997 in Beijing to the World Petroleum Congress.
At a time when the Clinton administration was working on the environmental agreement that became known as the Kyoto Protocol, Raymond not only argued against the notion of global warming, he openly flouted American foreign-policy, too.
“The most pressing environmental problems of the developing nations are related to poverty, not global climate change,” the ExxonMobil chief said in Beijing. “Addressing these problems will require economic growth, and that will necessitate increasing, not curtailing, the use of fossil fuels.”
Coll analyzes the speech as an extraordinary appeal to the Chinese Communist government, an accurate assessment that shows the company’s inclination to put its self-interest even above American priorities. Such actions, of course, could and would doom lesser companies when calling on Congress and the White House, but not ExxonMobil. The reason is obvious to even the most casual observer of American business: ExxonMobil routinely ranks at or near the top when it comes to annual profits and revenue.
Almost from the moment antitrust advocates forced the creation of Exxon (that particular name was created in 1973) by splitting it from Standard Oil, the company has grown in size and stature. And, the part of the company most people know best – the gas stations – are the least-profitable part of the business, serving more as advertising than anything else.
The Irving, Texas-based oil giant also stands as one of the most secretive major public corporations in the world. Coll lifts the veil on ExxonMobil’s strategies and techniques. His reporting spans Third World dictatorships enlisted as partners in finding much-needed oil reserves, K Street lobbyists fighting environmental and other regulatory legislation, and the looming hazards illustrated by massive spills.