Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson

Business Leader, Government Official, Secretary Of State(1952–)
Rex Tillerson rose through the ranks of ExxonMobil to become its CEO and chairman in 2006. In 2017, he was confirmed as the 69th U.S. secretary of state.


Born in Texas in 1952, Rex Tillerson was actively involved with the Boy Scouts as a child. He joined Exxon as an engineer after graduating from the University of Texas in 1975, eventually taking over as chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil in 2006. Nominated as President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state in 2016, he was confirmed to the post in February 2017.

Early Years

Rex Wayne Tillerson was born on March 23, 1952, in Wichita Falls, Texas. From his early years, the Boy Scouts were an important part of his life; his parents, Bob and Patty, had met at a Boy Scout camp as teenagers, and Bob went on to work for the organization. Tillerson became one of its devoted young members, rising to the rank of Eagle Scout at age 13.

Tillerson also showed an interest in music, playing drums for the Huntsville High School and University of Texas bands. At UT he pledged the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity, which had accepted only Boy Scouts until a few years prior, before graduating with his degree in civil engineering in 1975.

Rise at Exxon

Tillerson joined Exxon in 1975 as a production engineer, spending his early days with the company exploring and developing new resources out in the oil fields.

Enjoying an impressive ascent, Tillerson in 1989 became general manager of Exxon's central production division. His responsibilities soon expanded to a global scale, as he was assigned to operations in Yemen and Thailand in 1995. Three years later, he was named vice president of Exxon Ventures Inc. and president of Exxon Neftegas Limited, giving him oversight of the company’s Russian holdings.

Following Exxon's merger with Mobil, Tillerson became senior vice president in 2001. He was elected president and a member of the board of directors in 2004, and completed his rise to the top by taking over as chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil in 2006.

Successes and Controversy

As ExxonMobil's top executive, Rex Tillerson presented a more genial figure than his blunt predecessor, Lee Raymond. Delving into his Boy Scout roots, he reportedly installed a merit badge-like system to reward employees for accomplishments.

Charming disposition aside, Tillerson did what he saw fit to advance ExxonMobil's business interests. At one point during Barack Obama’s administration, he sidestepped the State Department to forge an independent oil deal with Kurdistan. He also agreed to a joint-venture arrangement with Russian energy company Rosneft in 2011, although that deal was suspended when the U.S. levied sanctions for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Tillerson's ties to the region were such that he was awarded the Order of Friendship from Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.

Under Tillerson's leadership, ExxonMobil adopted a public stance that acknowledged the threats of global warming. However, in 2015 multiple outlets reported that the company had been aware of climate change since the 1970s, and had attempted to cover up the release of that information.

Secretary of State

In December 2016, Rex Tillerson emerged as President-elect Donald Trump's surprise choice for secretary of state over higher-profile candidates like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Although he had never held public office, it was reasoned that Tillerson's interactions with foreign leaders as ExxonMobil chief had given him valuable experience on the global stage.

One month later, Tillerson faced tough questioning during his Senate confirmation hearing. Some wanted to know how his close ties to Putin would affect his ability to do the job, particularly with the revelation that Russia had attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Tillerson maintained that the U.S. needed to take a tough stance with Russia, and also distanced himself from some of Trump's controversial suggestions, like a ban on Muslim immigrants. Additionally, he promised a "comprehensive review" of the nuclear accord with Iran. However, he also asserted that much of the data on climate change was "inconclusive" and with his refusal to commit to action on human-rights abuses in countries such as the Philippines.

On February 1, 2017, Tillerson was confirmed as the nation's 69th secretary of state. However, it came on the heels of a 59-to-43 vote, the most votes against a nominee in Senate history.


Rex Tillerson has four children with his wife, Renda. They own several properties throughout Texas, through which they founded a horse breeding and training business.

Along with his top position with ExxonMobil, Tillerson was president of the Boy Scouts from 2010 through 2012. He is credited with helping to influence the organization's decision to accept openly gay members in 2013.

Tillerson has also served as a director of the United Negro College Fund, and held prominent positions with the National Petroleum Council, the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Ford's Theatre Society.

(Photo: Mark Von Holden/WireImage)

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