COMMENTARY – Will the sacked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson return to Exxon MobilCorp?


It isn’t clear where Rex Tillerson goes after being sacked as Secretary of State by U.S. President Donald Trump, but he has 180 million reasons to avoid the oil industry.

The freshly ousted Tillerson’s exit package from former employer Exxon MobilCorp. stipulates that if Tillerson returns to the private sector to work for a competitor, he could forfeit roughly $180 million in deferred compensation, reports Fortune.

Exxon created a payout plan in January 2017 for Tillerson, who had led the global oil major since 2006 before serving in the Trump administration, to compensate him for more than 2 million unvested shares and stock units while removing any conflicts of interest.

Tillerson surrendered his stock awards in exchange for a cash payment to an independently managed trust — the trust then distributes money to Tillerson according to a schedule that mirrors Exxon’s long-horizon vesting schedule.

A provision of Tillerson’s ethics agreement says that he must give up any undistributed assets in the trust if he becomes employed by or provides services to “a company in the oil and gas industry or the oil and gas services industry.” The terms cover being a consultant, contractor, director or paid employee.

The forfeited assets would then be paid out to a charity of the trustee’s choosing dedicated to the alleviation of disease and poverty in the developing world, according to the plan.

Despite his resume, Tillerson may find little demand for his services post-State Department. The 65-year-old Texas native spent his entire career at Exxon. No rival oil explorers operate with quite the same corporate culture or long-term view that the direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil has fostered among its executive class.

However, the question still remains: Will Rex Tillerson be invited by Exxon to join its board. More pertinent, will he accept employment?

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at

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