Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was known to employ some rather creative tactics throughout his impressive business career, including apparently throwing a book across the room during a meeting.
The incident occurred during a meeting in Yemen in the 1990s, but it was hardly a mistaken outburst of emotion. In fact, it was one of many tactics President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state used during his career.
“Anger is a strategy, not an emotion,” Tillerson once told colleagues, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal Monday.
Tillerson joined Exxon Mobil in 1975, eventually becoming CEO in 2006. Like Trump, Tillerson made his career by negotiating massive business deals. He reportedly spent hours with Exxon’s negotiating teams, meticulously strategizing and planning the theatrical tactics that helped him win multi-billion dollar oil deals.
Despite his flare, Tillerson was also keenly self-aware and avoided any hint of elitism during his negotiations. He told WSJ in 2004 about a situation in which a Russian minister began slamming his fist in anger on a table during a negotiation. Tillerson tactfully cooled the heated minister’s temper.
“You make yourself very aware of it, and almost go out of your way to make sure there’s nothing that conveys [a superior attitude],” said Tillerson. But one should not mistake his level-headed nature for weakness, Tillerson’s colleagues noted he held fast on his positions during negotiations.
Tillerson applied his arsenal of negotiating skills while striking a deal with Russia’s Rosneft oil company in the 2000s. He befriended the governor of Sakhalin, a remote island on Russia’s Pacific coast so that Exxon and the Russian government would be “on the same side of the table” should disputes arise. Moscow politics eventually ground the negotiations to a halt, forcing Tillerson to employ the “Exxon formula: no surrender,” as Steve Coll described it in his book “Private Empire.”
“We jacked this all the way to the top,” one of Tillerson’s colleagues told Coll. Tillerson and Exxon went straight to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him “what are you going to do about it?”
Putin offered to enforce the deal through a heavy-handed executive order, but Tillerson insisted on the deal going through legitimately. Putin was initially “blew his stack” in response, but ultimately agreed. The parties struck what is believed to have been a multi-billion dollar deal on January 27, 2011.
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