ExxonMobil's Safety Obsession: Inside the Mind of an Oil Giant

Exxon MobileExxonMobil (XOM) is an easy company to hate.

As the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company, it's hard not to blame it for the pain we experience at the pump -- particularly when you consider how much money it makes. If it were a country, its 2011 revenues of $486 billion would have placed it 20th in terms of GDP, ahead of Poland, Sweden, and Argentina, just to name a few.

Yet, like the bully who mistreated you in primary school, ExxonMobil is widely misunderstood. While many of its unsavory habits are common knowledge, it also has a naive and sensitive side. You just have to get to know the company to understand where it's coming from.

Extreme Events, Extreme Reactions

Aside from the founding of giant Standard Oil in 1870 and its court-mandated breakup 40 years later -- which created the offspring that would become both Exxon and Mobil -- there are two events in ExxonMobil's history that shape its present condition more than anything.

The first was the crash of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989. And the second was the 1992 kidnapping and killing of Sidney Reso, then-vice president of international operations for Exxon.

These two events affected Exxon's internal machinations more than most outsiders ever knew -- until now.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steve Coll gives us a glimpse into the energy giant's reaction to these events in his recent book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.

Time Out for a Safety Minute!

The Exxon Valdez incident ignited a fervent obsession with safety and risk, Coll reports. So focused on safety is the company now that every meeting at every office begins with a "safety minute."

During this "safety minute," a randomly chosen employee speaks about one safety issue or another -- no matter how minuscule. Some examples: the failure to turn off a coffeepot in the employee break room, or the unusually high incidence rate of paper cuts among the office staff.

Additionally, employees are required to back their cars into parking spaces, a measure meant to speed up evacuations in case of emergency. Even employees conduct at home is eligible for scrutiny. The proper way to use a ladder when cleaning gutters might be discussed, or the dangers of getting too much sun on a beach vacation.

The incident involving Reso spurred an equally intense fixation on the security of the company's senior executives.

Anyone who ascends to the top of ExxonMobil's corporate hierarchy now enjoys a personal protection regime similar to that of an American presidential candidate or holder of high national office. Its chief executive officer is prohibited from flying commercial, and is obligated instead to choose among the company's multiple luxurious jets for both personal and professional travel.

While ExxonMobil makes for a perfect corporate villain, who would have guessed that a swashbuckling energy giant would be obsessed with things such as sunburns, paper cuts, and coffeepots? Perhaps it's true that we shouldn't judge a book, or in this case an oil company, by its cover.

Motley Fool contributor John Maxfield does not have a financial interest in any oil companies, including ExxonMobil.

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I sure hope the new guy name Lee will clean up all the riff raff in the housekeeping dept. and then I can get my job back. It appears he is having doubts about the female supervisor that is over the housekeeping dept. She never can give him a clear answer on anything.

July 27 2012 at 11:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am trying to be a whistle blower here. Someone please tell Rex how the head supervisor over the housekeeping dept. in downtown Ft. Worth. Tx. treats people. Now she is saying if you have to have major surgery, that will count against your attendance & will affect your raise. REALLY? REX? Your retort? Send your people out to investigate. Have them to ask the housekeeping employees one on one how she treats folks. She does stuff that is absolutely against the law.

July 24 2012 at 11:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

was this a franchise? This has nothing to do with EM. Hope you were smart enough to leave and get a different job.

CORS stands for company owned retail store. It was ExxonMobil's own station, run by its own manager. And yes, it had everything to do with ExxonMobil and their apparent lack of concern for the safety of their employees who were down at the bottom of the food chain.

The station manager's supervisor should have written her up for her long lunches, her errand running instead of being at the station and her lack of competence when it came to the paperwork that the job required. Instead of firing her, she was promoted to a bigger store where she had more people to heap abuse on when she wasn't pulling her own weight.

May 18 2012 at 12:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What is missing here is the fact the oil companies do not want to pay for clean up. As the republicans go, pass it on to the tax paying population. No need for them to waste their dividens...........

May 17 2012 at 5:43 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to toosmart4u's comment

Notsosmart dear, you seem to always keep plugging along and proving once again that you are notsosmart at all darling

May 17 2012 at 7:16 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Brainwashing in America has just become more blatant and stupid.

May 17 2012 at 4:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a freakin' joke of an "article." I would be mortified to put my name on this PR puff piece or maybe they think people are so stupid these days that they won't know the difference.

May 16 2012 at 9:20 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

This is the web site where everything and I mean everything is Obama's fault and/or Democrats. I'm told Republicans are never and aren't at fault for anything.....not high oil price in June 2008, not the worst recession ever, not the needless wars, not the financial melt down, not the mortgage fiasco, not outsourcing jobs. not the defecit, absolutely nothing........ wow how is possible to be so perfect.

May 16 2012 at 8:13 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kafienkarl's comment

You are so right dear. It is all Presdient Obama's fault. Everything! After all liberals like you and me like to blame Presidents for everything that goes wrong dearest.

May 17 2012 at 7:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

One thing not to many people know is that they are not in the retail gas station business any more. They sold off all of their gas stations years ago. Any station selling their brand is a privately owned business on contract to buy their product.

May 16 2012 at 6:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to arenadood's comment

Actually, they were still selling them off a couple of years ago. I know because I worked at one of their CORS. They were selling them, but being ExxonMobil, they were able to be selective about who they sold to. It hasn't been years.

May 16 2012 at 8:19 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

They still owned stations in 2009, so no, they didn't sell them off years ago. I know. I worked for them.

May 16 2012 at 8:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Years ago, in Baltimore, Exxon had an accident where one of their drivers ran over another driver and killed him while both were at the loading racks. Exxon made a training film of the incident, but instead of using their own trucks, they hired an outside contractor to re-enact the incident. This is just another exampe that all at Exxon isn't what it seems to be.

May 16 2012 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


Mr. President.

Satan now takes his souls that were once NOT

Great Day Everyone

May 16 2012 at 9:38 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply