Why Exxon Mobil Keeps Winning in Politics and in Business


Lessons from A Titan

I have just read  April 9th The New Yorker’s excellent article ‘ Gusher: The power of Exxon Mobil‘.

Ever since reading  ‘Titan – The Life of John D. Rockeffeller‘  I have been intrigued how far a well run organization, tracking results, and following and implementing a plan can go.

Governments Come and Governments Go

Exxon Mobil are a creation of the State. Standard Oil was broken up by the US State. Being broken up did little to stop the company. At the the time, Standard Oil It was the largest and richest oil firm in the US. Today, it is the largest and most profitable privately owned oil firm in the world. In US Politics, it has been on the winning side of major bills, often supported by the White House, like Climate Change.


Where is Your Operating Manual?

How did ExxonMobil manage this?

It seems to come down to a very simple idea that in practice is very hard to deliver – they are very (very) well organized. They deliver on what they said they will do.


With the Help of A Little Black Binder

How many firms or NGOs can emulate this level of preparedness?

The author, Steve Coll, writes  about Kenneth P.Cohen, ExxonMobil’s vice president for public and government affairs:

“His operating manual for political strategy is a dark binder that is kept on a shelf in his second-floor office at the Irving headquarters. The first page carries the title “Public Policy Issues”. A list of about two dozen subjects follows, from climate change to government subsidies for gasoline alternatives such as ethanol. For each policy area, the notebook contains a summary of ExxonMobil’s lobbying position; which the corporation’s public-affairs teams support worldwide, often using common man gauge and PowerPoint slides. The notebook also provides a guide for judging American politicians”.


The Farley file and the issue binder are staples for serious political professionals. Every Presidential hopeful has one. Tony Blair imposed it on his UK Labour Party.

It Works in Business, So Why Not Try it in Politics?

 In Titan,  you learn of J.D. Rockefeller as a young man thought up a plan to take a ramshackle and chaotic US oil industry and dominate it in 10 years. He had a plan and he stuck to it.  It worked. He delivered early – it took 5 years.  He tracked the actions and measured the results.

It’s a useful lesson. It gets Exxon Mobil what they want. Others could copy them. Few do. Why? It is a lot of work to be as prepared and thorough as them.But, hardest of all is developing a plan and sticking to it. A lesson that works well in business and politics.


Is there Something Worse Than Smoking?

Smoking – No 1 Pariah?

I have just finished reading Charles Murray’s latest book about the state of white America.
An interesting observation is that smoking has a pariah like status for America’s upper middle class. I suspect that similar views are held by Europe’s upper middle class. His central premise is  that America’s upper middle class dominate the political and economic life of America, but they have very little understanding about the values and lives of the vast majority of America.

The book is interesting as it identifies the reading and value lifestyle habits of certain influential groups in America. Many of the observations made are also relevant of the officials in the Commission and Council – the tax home salary puts them in the upper percentiles of any country.  The take home package of many Heads of Unit  are likely to put them in the top 2% percentile of earners in their home countries. Long serving desk officers may have packages more generous than a senior minister back home. Directors certainly do.


Is There Something Worse Than Smoking

I was struck by the central message behind the UK Government’s advertising campaign against second hand smoking. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Davies put’s it “ contains 4500 chemicals, and 60 of these are toxic and cause cancer”(see 40 seconds into to interview).


It is remarkable that the impact of  smoking is now targeted because of the ‘chemicals they contain’.

Can this Tide Be Turned Back?

I’d be curious to know if the chemical industry want to reverse the trend that the Achilles heel of smoking is seen to be “the 60 or so cancer causing chemicals that cigarettes contain”

Pascal Lamy – The President of the Commission We Need Now

I have just read Pascal Lamy ‘s March 2012 talk at Oxford University.

It is a powerful case on the benefits of globalization. It should be read.

It reads as the manifesto of the President of the European Commission. He should have been. Weaker men were afraid of his energy and brilliance and choose a weak man. We live with the results.

Pascal Lamy  is the leader the  European Commission deserves. Perhaps his frugality, knowledge, courtesy to colleagues, disdain for fools (in and outside the Commission) are qualities weak leaders fear.  They should be.

Charles Grant’s book on Jacques Delors portrayed Pascal Lamy, his chief of staff, as a man who turned around a loose and weak Commission into one that showed leadership and promoted free trade. It seems a good time to bring that man back to turn around Europe again.