Exxon Mobil CEO: Not moving headquarters to Houston

Exxon Mobil’s CEO on Thursday dashed any hopes that the multinational oil and gas giant would relocate its headquarters to Houston, saying he plans to continue to honor the company’s “foundational” principles to keep separate its executive suites from its operations.

Rumors have been swirling that Exxon Mobil may be considering a move from suburban Dallas since the company began building a sprawling new campus near The Woodlands which is expected to house 10,000 employees when it is completed next year.

Rex Tillerson addressed the oft-asked question at an Asia Society Texas Center luncheon Thursday honoring him with the Roy M. Huffington Award, the highest award bestowed by the center.

“No, we’re not coming to Houston, I’m sorry,” he said in response to a question posed by moderator Andrew Card, the former of chief of staff to President George W. Bush and transportation secretary to George H.W. Bush.

Putting the lingering rumor to bed, Tillerson said the company’s decision to remain in Irving harkens back to a deliberate choice made by Exxon’s executives in 1989 when the corporation left Manhattan, where it had been since it was founded by John D. Rockefeller, for a 132-acre office park near Dallas.

Then-chairman Lawrence Rawl faced questions about why the company chose Irving instead of Houston, the energy capital of the world which at the time housed a sizable portion of the company’s operations, Tillerson said.

“Larry said then, ‘Look, I don’t want the corporate office sitting in the same neighborhood with the operating units, the people who are actually out there running that day-to-day operation, running the business,'” Tillerson said.

The Dallas area offered the right amount of distance. Then a $17 flight away from Houston on Southwest Airlines — the “company aircraft,” Tillerson joked — Exxon’s headquarters were close enough to the Houston operations that managers could “feel our presence” but far enough away to allow operators the autonomy, authority and responsibility to manage community relations without corporate interference, Tillerson said.

“Just that little bit of separation helps us reinforce that,” he said.

In the nearly 40-minute question-and-answer session moderated by Card, Tillerson also addressed the nation’s ban on crude oil exports, dismissing that argument that lifting a ban would be unwise because U.S. continues to import crude. Most crude exports have been banned under laws that arose during Middle East oil embargoes in the 1970s that led to gasoline shortages in the United States

“(The ban) really needs to be relegated to the dust bin because it’s really holding us back,” Tillerson said. “It’s not helping us. It’s holding us back. We’re less secure than if we would open everything up.”

Speaking from the perspective of a company that extracts oil from the ground and runs one of the world’s largest refining operations, Tillerson said that refiners should continue to import, even as the nation is awash in oil thanks to the shale boom, because refiners should be allowed to buy the product that best suits their needs. Many U.S. refiners are equipped to handle heavy, high-sulfur crude, primarily imported from Canada and Mexico.

However, the need for imports shouldn’t dissuade the nation from considering exports, Tillerson said

Bucking the pleas by other U.S. refiners who have urged the government to maintain the ban, Tillerson said lifting the ban would boost the economy because refiners worldwide may choose to spend more on the lighter, sweeter crude pumped from U.S. shales than a captive U.S. refinery spends to import cheaper, heavier crude from overseas.

“We just generated a trade surplus right there on one barrel,” Tillerson said. “Crude is a globally fungible commodity. And what you want to allow is to let refiners all over the world optimize their slate. And the way you let them optimize it is give them access to it. And today we’re not doing that.”

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February 2014: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus is under construction near The Woodlands. The new development is near Interstate 45 and the Hardy
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February 2014: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus is under construction near The Woodlands. The new development is near Interstate 45 and the Hardy
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen rising above the trees on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The ne
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near I
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, May 23, 2013. The new development is near In
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: Workers on the roof of a parking structure are seen at the new Exxon Mobil corporate campusunder construction near The Woodlands on Thursday
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: Construction on the interchange of the Grand Parkway and I-45 just south of the new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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May 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen just north of construction on the Grand Parkway on Thursd
Photo: Exxon Mobil
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A 90-foot-tall Heritage Shumard Oak has been on the site for 150 to 200 years and was moved to the central commons.
Photo: Exxon Mobil
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The Energy Center will be the largest common space on the campus.
Photo: Exxon Mobil
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The buildings will incorporate sustainable designs to save energy costs.
Photo: Exxon Mobil
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The campus project is one of the largest commercial developments in North America.
Photo: Google Maps
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A 2013 Google Maps aerial shot of the Exxon Mobil campus under construction north of Houston.
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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April 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The new development is nea
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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April 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The new development is nea
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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April 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The new development is nea
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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April 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The new development is nea
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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April 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The new development is nea
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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April 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The new development is nea
Photo: Houston Chronicle
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April 2013: The new Exxon Mobil corporate campus under construction near The Woodlands is seen on Thursday, April 11, 2013. The new development is nea
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March 2013: Aerial shot of the new Exxon Mobil campus under construction north of The Woodlands.
Photo: Shell
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Members of the Gilbane | Harvey and ExxonMobil campus project team spell out their commitment to safety on top of the first completed parking garage a
Photo: Shell
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Construction workers gather in a parking garage at the new ExxonMobil Houston campus for a weekly all hands meeting to discuss site safety.
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Summer 2012: These aerial photographs show the progress on Exxon Mobils huge corporate campus south of The Woodlands. The 385-acre development i
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Summer 2012: These aerial photographs show the progress on Exxon Mobils huge corporate campus south of The Woodlands. The 385-acre development i
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Summer 2012: These aerial photographs show the progress on Exxon Mobils huge corporate campus south of The Woodlands. The 385-acre development i
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Summer 2012: These aerial photographs show the progress on Exxon Mobils huge corporate campus south of The Woodlands. The 385-acre development i
Photo: www.BirdsEyeHouston.com
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June 2011: An aerial photo of the Exxon Mobil campus site at Interstate 45 North and Hardy Toll Road.
Photo: www.BirdsEyeHouston.com
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June 2011: An aerial photo of the Exxon Mobil campus site at Interstate 45 North and Hardy Toll Road.
Photo: www.BirdsEyeHouston.com
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June 2011: An aerial photo of the Exxon Mobil campus site at Interstate 45 North and Hardy Toll Road.
Photo: Business Wire
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This computer-generated image illustrates several office buildings and an employee gathering area that will be part of ExxonMobil's new office campus
Photo: Business Wire
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This computer-generated image illustrates several office buildings and an employee gathering area that will be part of ExxonMobil's new office campus
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