Five Reasons Rex Tillerson Is The Right Pick for Secretary of State

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Rex Tillerson watches a tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club course in Pebble Beach, California, on February 6, 2014. Richard Bowen writes that Tillerson is a leader Donald Trump respects and will likely listen to as his secretary of state. Michael Fiala/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Rex Tillerson is a strong choice to be America’s next top diplomat.

As chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, the fifth-largest publicly traded company in the world, Tillerson has for over a decade ably led a corporation with annual revenues exceeding $260 billion and operations in over 21 countries.

Exxon’s revenues surpass the gross national products of a number of nations. With over 75,000 employees, Exxon is also regarded as one of the world’s best-managed companies.

After over 40 years at Exxon, Tillerson was expected to retire by March 2017 as part of the company’s mandatory retirement policies. However, his likely acceptance to succeed Secretary of State John Kerry underscores that, unlike many corporate leaders who pursue much easier post-retirement pursuits, Tillerson has chosen to take on a challenge with similar scope.

Related: Tillerson’s ties to Putin worry Trump’s critics

Tillerson is the right person for the job for five main reasons:

1. The State Department is an organization that needs substantial reform. Some commentators were quick to argue that being secretary of state is not the same as leading a company. But the State Department has a budget of $65 billion and nearly 70,000 personnel.

A proven CEO of a much larger organization is a strong choice to overhaul State’s cumbersome bureaucracy and turn the department into a more agile, mission-focused organization that attracts and retains the best people. With a human capital drain in the Foreign Service, John Kerry leaves his successor an organization that needs a substantial re-boot.

2. Tillerson has been a successful commercial statesman. Serving as Exxon Mobil’s CEO requires adept skills in negotiating and managing a number of relationships across the world with numerous countries, organizations and actors. Unlike his predecessors, Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who often didn’t make the final decision, Tillerson had to take ultimate responsibility for the deals he made. Tillerson, more so than most C-suite executives, had to navigate a number of complex geopolitical challenges that affected Exxon’s bottom line.

3. Tillerson’s relationships with states such as Russia and Qatar aren’t necessarily liabilities. While Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have raised concerns about Tillerson’s close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it made business sense, as with any other CEO of a major oil company, to have constructive relations with countries where their company has significant operations.

Tillerson’s ability to manage a relationship with Putin amidst deepening global tensions between the U.S. and Russia is more of a sign that he can successfully advance and manage complex relationships even when the geopolitical headwinds are against him. This will be valuable asset as secretary of state as Tillerson navigates relationships with Moscow and Beijing.

4. Tillerson has a good rapport with the president-elect. A strong and effective secretary of state requires the faith and confidence of the president.

Unlike Mitt Romney, who likely would be more of an outsider than an insider in this new administration, Tillerson is a leader Donald Trump respects and will likely listen to. He’s also someone who will able to hold his own with the other strong personalities in the Cabinet.

If Trump appoints a strong deputy secretary of state, such as John Bolton (who has had extensive experience at State), Tillerson could balance his strengths with those of Bolton.

5. Tillerson has extensive experience in navigating domestic politics. With Exxon’s extensive operations in the U.S., he has had to navigate Congress, the White House and the domestic regulatory environment.

A successful secretary of state such as James Baker had a keen sense of both global affairs and U.S. politics. This proved invaluable in his effectiveness as a secretary of state and counselor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Tillerson arguably has had more domestic and international experience than any other secretary of state since Baker.

While Tillerson may not naturally hold the same foreign policy intellectual gravitas and traditional experience that Henry Kissinger or George Shultz did, his experience in leading Exxon Mobil for over 10 years has given him a deep understanding of global affairs.

His extensive experience as well in understanding the intersection of the economy, business, society and government would be an invaluable perspective as the U.S. confronts a number of global challenges that require a deep understanding of both geopolitics and geoeconomics.

Similar to Baker, Tillerson also knows how to get things done and advance the president’s vision of “making America great again.”

Andrew J. Bowen is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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