When Will Rex Tillerson Step Down From Exxon? Forced Retirement Means He'd Leave Soon Anyway

Through an official statement early Tuesday — not just a tweet — the Trump transition team named Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson the president-elect's choice for secretary of state. The unusual choice (usually such a post is filled by someone from political circles) has drawn attention from both Democrats and Republicans alike for his connections with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Those began through dealings of Exxon in Russia, where the oil company has huge holdings. So given the potential conflicts, when will Tillerson step down from Exxon? It's unclear — but no later than March 2017 or his potential confirmation, whichever comes first.

Tillerson has to step down by March 2017 due to rules at Exxon that require retirement by age 65. He is currently 64 and his birthday is March 23. He has no chance of staying at the company due to the rule, so even if he isn't confirmed secretary of state, which is unlikely, he won't be forgoing a future there managing more deals for oil fields around the world.

The question then is when his confirmation hearings will begin (potential attorney general Jeff Sessions' hearings will begin Jan 10). Given the time he will need to spend in Washington, Exxon may prefer that he step down beforehand. Of course once he is confirmed, he would need to step down before beginning the job or he would have a conflict of interest (arguably much like those Trump has with his family business).

So likely he will step down sometime in January, but he could wait as long as March if there are delays. Another question — on top of his position at Exxon — is the shares that he owns in the oil company that he has worked at since 1975. The Wall Street Journal reported that according to recent filings, he has shares worth some $151 million. U.S. State Department rules would require that those are sold, even though they're not scheduled to vest for quite some time. The Journal pointed out that if sanctions against Russia were lifted, their value would rise quite a bit.

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While the future of U.S. diplomacy seems to be questioned from both sides of the aisle, Exxon should do just fine after he leaves. The company signaled in December of 2015 that they had chosen a successor in Darren Woods, who's now serving as Exxon's president. There will be some challenges for the newcomer as the oil markets have been in a slump for more than two years, and oil remains at just over $50 a barrel.

In the coming days it will be clearer how hard Tillerson's confirmation process will be, and that may very well decide his timing to leave too. So as with all of Trump's cabinet picks, stay tuned.