Activist Exxon Director Has a Resume Behind Best-in-World Boast

Before Greg Goff was elected as a dissident director to Exxon Mobil Corp.’s board, the oil company called him “unqualified.” Yet it’s hard to find many people who would agree with that assessment, least of all the man himself.

“I am the best oil executive in the world,” he told a room full of Wall Street analysts over a steak dinner about a decade ago, according to one of those present.

Activist Exxon Director Has a Resume Behind Best-in-World Boast

Goff went on to explain at the time that, uniquely in his view, he had senior management experience in the main areas that define the oil industry: upstream (production), midstream (pipelines) and downstream (refining).

Fast forward to 2021, and he’s finally getting the chance to use the full breadth of that experience on the board of Exxon, which operates in all three segments as a vertically integrated oil supermajor. Goff wasn’t immediately available for comment. An Exxon spokesman said the company welcomes the new directors to the board and is “looking forward to working with them constructively and collectively to benefit all shareholders.”

Activist investor Engine No. 1’s victory on Wednesday in a bitter proxy fight with Exxon saw at least two of its nominees, including Goff, voted in as director in a humiliating blow to the energy giant. It’s a sign of how investors have been galvanized by climate change, and also how they’ve become dissatisfied with the oil company’s poor financial performance in recent years. But while Goff will address both issues on behalf of Engine No. 1, he’s no radical.

“Anyone who thinks that Greg Goff is going to storm into the Exxon Mobil boardroom and start yelling about wind farms, does not know Greg Goff,” Paul Sankey, an independent analyst, said in a note Thursday. “We know Greg Goff, this will all be orderly.”

It isn’t the first time Goff, who’s in his mid-60s, has been a player in an activist shareholder drama. While serving as executive vice chairman of Marathon Petroleum Corp. two years ago, he emerged as a potential replacement for then-CEO Gary Heminger as Elliott Management Corp. and D.E. Shaw & Co. pushed to split up the refiner, people familiar with the matter said at the time. Marathon eventually buckled and agreed to spin off its Speedway gas station chain. Heminger departed and Goff retired.

Goff had risen through the ranks at ConocoPhillips before taking the top job at independent oil refiner Tesoro Corp. in 2010. Soon after that move, he invited sell-side analysts to dinner at Keens Steakhouse in midtown Manhattan, Sankey recalled. Asked how he got the chief executive officer job, Goff talked of the long hours he worked in his parents’ store during his youth, Sankey said.

“‘Hard work’ is always the best answer to that question,” Sankey said last week. “He is unquestionably focused primarily on making organizations work better for all stakeholders.”

It was at Tesoro, subsequently renamed Andeavor, that Goff cemented his reputation. From 2010 until Goff sold the company to Marathon for $22 billion in 2018, the stock rose 1,032%, compared with the index’s 30.5% gain in the S&P 500 Energy Index. Goff made the Harvard Business Review’s 2018 list of the best-performing CEOs in the world.

Goff will sit on the same board as Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods, who was head of the company’s giant refining division during some of Goff’s tenure at Andeavor, making them industry peers for a time.

They may have plenty of time to get to know each other -- the changes that need to be made at Exxon, “even under the best of circumstances,” will take years, Charlie Penner, a principal at Engine No. 1, said Wednesday. “But the work has to begin now,” Penner said.

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