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Exxon Mobil Chief Raymond to Step Down

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The head of the world's biggest oil company is retiring. ExxonMobil's Lee Raymond says he'll step down as chairman and chief executive officer at the end of this year. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

News of Lee Raymond's retirement brought a gusher of praise from people close to the oil industry. They've watched him steer the company for the last dozen years through times when oil was just over $10 a barrel to times when it was more than $60. Raymond led Exxon's merger with Mobil in 1999, and this year the combined company surpassed General Electric as the nation's biggest corporation in terms of market value.

Mr. JOHN OLSON (Sanders Morris Harris): Lee Raymond has left a very large footprint on the global oil and gas industry with his years of service with Exxon.

HORSLEY: John Olson runs an energy fund with Sanders Morris Harris in Houston.

Mr. OLSON: He has streamlined not only one major oil company, but with the merger of Mobil Oil Corporation, this is easily the most formidable competitor in the energy arena today.

HORSLEY: Olson says Exxon has the size, expertise and the money to explore for oil anywhere in the world. But even while Exxon was earning $25 billion in the first half of this year, Olson says Raymond's company remained disciplined about how much money it spent.

Mr. OLSON: They have stuck to their knitting in a very, very controlled fashion.

HORSLEY: As oil prices soared this spring, Raymond bluntly told The Wall Street Journal, quote, "I'll bet they'll be lower at some point." Oil and gas professor James Smith of Southern Methodist University in Dallas says Raymond's reluctance to gamble on rising prices is born of hard experience.

Mr. JAMES SMITH (Professor, Southern Methodist University): He was in the industry back in 1979, '80 and '81 when people were last talking about $100 oil. And anybody who's still around remembers how wrong those predictions can be.

HORSLEY: While some of Exxon's competitors, such as British Petroleum, have begun to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels, Raymond's company has been slow to do so. And Raymond himself has been an outspoken skeptic of efforts to combat global warming. Dave Hamilton, who directs energy programs for the Sierra Club, says that resistance will also be part of the outgoing chairman's legacy.

Mr. DAVE HAMILTON (Sierra Club): If you're in the world of investors and shareholder equity, the guy's--will probably be in somebody's hall of fame. If you're in the world of what is the kind of future we're going to have for our children, then he's in a hall of shame.

HORSLEY: Exxon said in a statement yesterday Raymond's retirement is consistent with a succession plan developed years ago by the board of directors. Investors took the news in stride, and Exxon's stock price slipped less than 1 percent. Raymond's expected to be replaced as chairman and CEO by Rex Tillerson, who's currently Exxon's president.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

(Credits)

STEVE INSKEEP (Host): I'm Steve Inskeep.

WERTHEIMER: And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.