Date
17 November 2017
Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson has never worked for the government but as the chief executive of the biggest oil company, he has plenty of experience dealing with politicians and businessmen around the world. Photo: Reuters
Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson has never worked for the government but as the chief executive of the biggest oil company, he has plenty of experience dealing with politicians and businessmen around the world. Photo: Reuters

Why Trump is tapping the business elite for his team

US President-elect Donald Trump has appointed Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

The 64-year-old Tillerson joined the oil company after graduating from university and became its CEO in 2006.

Trump hailed Tillerson as “among the most accomplished business leaders and international deal makers in the world”.

Trump himself values dealmaking a lot and even wrote a book, The Art Of The Deal. He intends to leverage Tillerson’s dealmaking capability in the business world to fight for the best interests of the US in diplomacy.

Although Tillerson has never worked for the government, as chief of the biggest oil company, he has plenty of experience dealing with politicians and businessmen around the world.

He has successfully handled tricky situations in Russia, Iran, Kuwait etc. He even developed a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So Tillerson does have quite a bit of relevant experience.

Still, managing diplomatic relations is far more complicated than running a company. There are a lot more different interests to balance, rather than just focusing on costs and profit.

The secretary of state, ranked as the No. 4 most powerful person in the US, is principally concerned with foreign policy. Many of the previous nominees are seasoned diplomats or politicians.

The current Secretary of State John Kerry is a former Massachusetts senator, for instance.

In fact, numerous key members the Trump team is assembling have no political background, such as the treasury secretary, the commerce minister, the national economic council director and the White House chief strategist.

The new treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker.

Trump’s ultra-rightwing chief strategist Steve Bannon is also an ex-Goldman banker, so is Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Trump has nominated private equity billionaire Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary and former Hewlett-Packard chairwoman Carly Fiorina has been named as director of national intelligence.

There are two possible reasons Trump is tapping the business sector to form his core team.

One is he does not have many friends in the mainstream political arena whom he can trust and are willing to work for him.

With little political experience, Trump’s election success reflects the public’s dissatisfaction with top politicians in a bipartisan system.

And two, to bring changes and make America great again, the president-elect probably prefers to work with senior aides with little governing background like himself.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 15

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/RA

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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