Exxon Mobil (XOM) has reached an agreement for CEO Rex Tillerson's exit if the executive is confirmed as Secretary of State in the Trump administration that should ease many conflict-of-interest concerns, but not all.
The oil and gas company late Tuesday outlined measures to be taken if the U.S. Senate confirms President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Tillerson, 64, to head the State Department. Under the agreement, the value of the more than two million Exxon shares Tillerson would have received over the course of 10 years upon retirement will be transferred to an independently managed trust prohibited from investing in the Irving, Texas-based company. Exxon has a market cap of $376.5 billion.
Tillerson will also surrender more than $4.1 million in cash bonuses scheduled for payout over the next three years as well as other benefits, including those related to retirement. Exxon has a mandatory retirement age of 65, which Tillerson reaches on March 23.
In total, the executive will see his compensation reduced by about $7 million if he becomes Secretary of State. According to the Wall Street Journal's calculations, his retirement package will still be worth about $180 million.
The agreement should ease conflict-of-interest risks for Tillerson in relation to Exxon if he is confirmed, said Washington University Law professor Kathleen Clark. The executive will face a two-year disqualification period for proceedings that directly involve Exxon, but he will be free to participate in broader policies that affect multiple parties, including Exxon.
"It may be a close call, but I don't think it would bar him from participating in discussions on how to deal with sanctions against Russia. Russian sanctions wouldn't count under regulations as a specific matter to which Exxon is a party," Clark said.
Tillerson has been one of Trump's most controversial cabinet picks since the president-elect announced last month his intention to nominate the oil and gas executive. Tillerson's ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin have raised eyebrows. Questions have persisted about what he will do with his vested and unvested shares, which Tuesday evening's announcement seeks to answer.
While the agreement will result in a notable reduction in Tillerson's exit package, he won't be leaving empty-handed. He could potentially defer millions of dollars in taxes if he is confirmed as Secretary of State.
Separately, Tillerson has also committed to the State Department that he will sell the more than 600,000 shares in ExxonMobil he currently owns. At Tuesday's market close price, those shares are valued at more than $54.5 million.
Clark characterized the agreement as an "incredibly good deal" for Exxon, albeit not necessarily the American people.
"They've made an exception [with Tillerson's exit package], and what they get essentially is someone who has been extraordinarily loyal to them, someone who was identified with the company, who will now be in a position to have an enormous influence on U.S. policy towards Russia that will absolutely have an effect on Exxon's fortunes," she said. "Even though the black letter of the law is satisfied here, it's extremely troubling."
Shares of Exxon fell 0.80% to $90.16 in mid-morning trading Wednesday.
A number of big-name Republicans have lined up behind Tillerson for Secretary of State, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Others have been more resistant, including Sen. John McCain, who last week told reporters he has "concerns" about Tillerson and his relationship with Putin. The two men will meet this week, the Arizona Republican said in an interview on Tuesday morning, during which they will discuss "a whole range of concerns."
Tillerson is scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for two days of confirmation hearings starting Jan. 11.