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A winning attitude

The Lamp profiled Darren Woods when he became senior vice president in 2015. In his earlier interview, he described his upbringing and his experience in the Downstream and Chemical organizations. Now that Woods has been named chairman and CEO, we wanted to check back in and ask what challenges and opportunities he sees in his new role.

Congratulations on your election! How’s it going?

It’s been an extraordinary first year so far. I’m fortunate to be part of a very talented and capable team. I feel we’re off to a strong start. We’re building on a legacy of leadership from the many talented people who have made our company great over the past 135 years. It’s a real honor to follow in their footsteps. We’re very focused on the future, working to grow our competitive advantage, becoming more efficient, running our business even more effectively and creating greater shareholder value.

What experiences do you think prepared you for the top job?

One of ExxonMobil’s many strengths is the way we develop our people. We offer them a diversity of career experiences that span the globe. We challenge them with big jobs and significant responsibilities early in their careers. We help people realize that they are capable of more than they think.

During my 25 years with the company, I’ve really benefited from that approach. I had the chance to work in a variety of roles across the Downstream companies, in Chemical, and at our Dallas headquarters. I’ve worked for great managers, who challenged me every step of the way. There’s no better preparation for a role like this than a career at ExxonMobil.

Darren Woods at NYSE
Photo — Chairman and CEO Darren W. Woods

You often speak of the importance of “winning.”  What exactly do you mean by that?

It starts with deciding what we’re trying to do. Do we want to be among the best – or the best? Do we race to finish – or to win? Frankly, given the strength of our organization, the quality and capability of our people, and the competitive advantages we’ve built over decades, I’d be disappointed with anything other than a win. This means creating greater shareholder and stakeholder value than any of our competitors.

This requires more than just continuous improvement. It requires greater improvement, delivered faster, than any of the advances made by our competitors. It requires us to grow competitive advantage and fully leverage it in the areas that create the most value. It requires a clear strategy, owned by every level of the organization, for each sector in which we choose to compete. That is what we’re focused on.

What challenges do you see ahead?

The world needs affordable energy to grow its economies and advance living standards. The world also needs to manage and protect its environment and natural resources. Society doesn’t have the luxury of choosing one over the other. We have to tackle both.

At ExxonMobil, we play a vital role. The work we do every day is focused on these objectives. Lowering cost and improving productivity while minimizing our environmental footprint and the emissions from our operations and products is helping. But we have more to do. I’m confident that further advances will come with the research we’re doing across a broad spectrum of technology opportunities.

Of course, we do this to generate greater shareholder and stakeholder value over the long term. In an increasingly competitive environment, with markets currently over-supplied, this is a significant challenge.

So what’s the solution?

It starts with our people. I don’t think there’s any organization in the world with people more talented or capable than those at ExxonMobil. My job, along with the other leaders in the organization, is to empower and fully leverage this capability.

Technology is also critical. Advances in technology are allowing us to do things today that people thought weren’t possible a decade ago. The industry has unlocked vast resources of oil and natural gas we had once thought out of reach. Industry innovation led to an energy revolution. This will happen again.

Technology will ultimately play a role in unlocking solutions for most, if not all, of our challenges.

Chairman and CEO Darren W. Woods

What opportunities out there make you the most excited?

I’m excited by opportunities across our entire portfolio. In the Downstream, we’re investing in proprietary technology to increase the production of higher-value products and position our refineries as some of the most competitive in the world.

In Chemical, we’re leveraging a host of organizational capabilities – from projects to sales – and technology advantages in processes and products to invest strategically in high-value, high-growth businesses.

In the Upstream, I’m excited about several of our new investments in Guyana, Mozambique and the Permian Basin here in the United States to name a few. All are world class. The Permian will enable us to take advantage of our integrated businesses, which span the value chain along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Earlier this year, I announced our “Growing the Gulf” initiative, which is expanding manufacturing capacity to take advantage of abundant oil and natural gas from shale. All told, it’s a $20 billion investment program spanning 11 projects over a 10-year period, and will create 45,000 jobs.

Darren Woods visits Baytown
Photo — Darren Woods visits the Baytown refinery

I’m also excited about our research and development program which is exploring technologies to improve our business performance and help mitigate the risks of climate change. It’s an exciting time for our industry and our company.

What are your priorities as chairman and CEO?

My first priority is to ensure that all of us continue to live by and promote our company’s values, including safety and integrity. I want us to build on our strong foundation of operational excellence and corporate citizenship. I want us to empower and fully leverage the talents and capabilities of our people.

Another priority of mine is for us to further differentiate the capabilities and performance of our technology organization and functional companies. 

Finally, our priority must be to win – to beat our competition in creating shareholder and stakeholder value. 

Early on as chairman and CEO, you’ve spoken out about climate change. Where are you on this issue?

Darren Woods speaks at shareholder meeting
Photo — Darren Woods has held several roles in the Downstream and Chemical businesses, and in Investor Relations

It’s an important issue, part of the dual challenge I talked about earlier. ExxonMobil is committed to helping address the challenge – and has been for years. We’ve been involved in climate research for almost 40 years. We’ve made significant contributions to the science and partnered with some of the world’s leading scientific and research organizations, including the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Stanford University, MIT and others. We’re reducing emissions in our operations. We’re helping consumers reduce their emissions with improvements in our products. And we’re investing in breakthrough technologies that could be game-changing, like biofuels and carbon capture and storage.

We recently joined the Climate Leadership Council, which supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax. We also support the Paris agreement. We have a lot of experience in the energy industry and a deep understanding of the available technologies. We can make a significant contribution.

As the world takes on this challenge, everyone will have to play a part – governments, the industry and consumers. We must also remember that some parts of the world are in desperate need of reliable, affordable energy. We have to meet this need as well.

Any final thoughts for readers of The Lamp?

Let me say, whether you’re an employee, an annuitant or a shareholder of ExxonMobil, you’re part of something big, and something important. The energy we produce is powering progress around the world. It’s lifting billions of people out of poverty. It’s enabling hundreds of millions to join the middle class. It’s helping more people get the medical care, education and jobs they need. Our company has many exciting opportunities to continue to contribute to this progress. We also have exciting opportunities to address energy’s impact on the environment. We’ve made great progress over the years. I’m optimistic that our research efforts will help unlock additional opportunities. I’m proud to be a part of all that we do, and I hope you are too.

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