American spies and diplomats who occasionally migrated to work at Exxon discovered a corporate system of secrecy, non disclosure agreements, and internal security that matched some of the most compartmented black boxes of the world’s intelligence agencies.

Their strategy worked. Exxon made a fetish of rules, but it rarely had to justify or explain publicly how it operated when the rules were gray.

Compared with executives at San Francisco-based Chevron or the international behemoths of British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell, a British-Dutch conglomerate, senior executives at Exxon sometimes lacked what bicoastal American or European executives would call worldliness. Many of Exxon’s U.S.-based executives traveled extensively but remained insulated, introverted; when they mingled, it was to golf or hunt with others like themselves.

The ultimate measure (and the chief purpose) of this management culture was Exxon’s financial performance.

Exxon made more profit on each dollar it invested than any of its American or international competitors. It’s exceptional ability to complete massive, complex drilling and construction projects on time and under budget meant that, in comparison to industry peers, it remained exceptionally profitable in recessions and boom times alike, when oil prices were high and when prices were low.

-Steve Coll Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power (21, 36-37 40)


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