A Not-So-Fond Farewell
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Lee, we barely knew ye.
Oh, wait, yes we did.
"You either retire or die and I'd just as soon not die," you said recently, and then yesterday announced your imminent exit as chair and CEO of ExxonMobil after more than 40 years with the oil behemoth.
We'd just as soon not die either, Mr. Raymond, but anticipate we all will, so on the occasion of your retirement we offer this modest encomium to your many accomplishments.
What impresses above all is your consistency. You joined Exxon in 1963, and no matter what challenges you faced -- being promoted to president in 1987, chair/CEO in 1993, and chair/CEO of the merged ExxonMobil in 1999; presiding over record-high oil prices and company profits; being compensated to the tune of $42 million in 2005 -- you remained true-blue to the company that took you in as a homeless young chemical engineer with nothing to your name but the clothes on your back and a dream of world domination.
You have remained like unto a mighty rock, unswayed by passing fads and fashions.
When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker dumped around 11 million gallons of crude on Prince William Sound, then-CEO Lawrence Rawl said he was "too busy" to visit the site.
But not you! You, then president, took over the company's response. When a court demanded Exxon pay $4.5 billion to the Valdez victims bellyachers, you put money aside while you fought the judgment in court. Meanwhile, that money makes on the order of $800 million a year in interest. That's serious ROI! Sixteen years later you still haven't double hulled your Alaskan tankers, and really, why would you?
When fair-weather friends BP and ConocoPhillips dropped out of Arctic Power, the lobbying group you spearheaded to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife, ahem, the "Opportunity Refuge" -- perhaps swayed by radical lefty arguments that extracting oil from the refuge would involve a barely recoupable investment and have negligible impact on U.S. foreign-oil dependence -- you stood fast.
Let other corporations kowtow to overwhelming public sentiment; you understand that the continued existence of a piece of undrilled land is an offense to America. Is drilling what we do or is it not? Exactly.
Consistency has also guided you on the subject of global warming; snuggling up to the global fire with a nice cup of cocoa. One by one, your inferiors have fled to the alleged mainstream scientific consensus that greenhouse gases are causing atmospheric havoc.
But as you said, "the mainstream of some so-called environmentalists or politically correct Europeans isn't the mainstream of all scientists or the White House."
Oh, wait, we're getting a bulletin ... one sec ... OK, looks like you lost the White House.
But you're right about "all scientists" -- there are some scientists certain that rising carbon-dioxide levels are peachy. You probably recognize them from your payroll (and speaking of your payroll -- a big welcome to Philip Cooney!).
Finally, of course, your integrity on the subject of clean renewable li'l energy technologies is impeccable. While competitors like BP plow money into solar and wind research, you rely on wisdom that's had some time to ferment: "We're resting our views on the conclusions we came to in 1980, that they're uneconomic."
You've had to weather some rough treatment from the little people here and there, but you've made ExxonMobil the world's largest company, in 2000 posting the highest one-year profit ever by a corporation. In that position of great symbolic significance, it's doubly admirable that you've maintained strict discipline on the Giving Back side of the ledger.
"We don't invest to make social statements at the expense of shareholder return," you said.
Well goodness no. That would be inconsistent.
So here's to you, Mr. Raymond! Or rather, here's to your retirement. Huzzah.
David Roberts is assistant editor at Grist.