Friends, professor remember what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was like at UT

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ExxonMobil CEO and chairman Rex W. Tillerson gives a speech at the annual Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. Those attending the conference this week remain worried about low global oil prices. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Photo Credit: AP Photo / Jon Gambrell

In the 1970s, then UT undergraduate Jack Randall befriended a freshman percussionist in the Longhorn Band who frequented barbecue joints as a drummer in a country western band. 

Decades later Rex Tillerson, former chair and CEO of Exxon Mobil, told his college friend Randall he planned to retire, but a job offer as Secretary of State put those plans on hold.

“I am absolutely satisfied that the reason he was able to postpone his retirement and take this job was out of a sense of duty and out of a sense of service,” Randall said.

Tillerson, a Boy Scout and Wichita Falls native from a middle-class family, enrolled at UT in 1970 as a civil engineering major. Tillerson haas said his favorite professor, mathematician James Vick, brought him out of a dip in his grades.

“If what we did in class and what we did talking outside of class helped him, then that’s, to me, exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” Vick said.

Over a dinner with several engineering students in the mid-2000s, Tillerson and Randall were invited to give career advice. The dialogue turned into a playful recollection of their days in the UT marching band fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi.

To the students’ bewilderment, Tillerson and Randall told them of how they would kidnap an unsuspecting pledge and leave them in the middle of nowhere — with only a dime to call a ride home.

“And the next thing you know, we’re talking like we’re 25 years old again,” Randall said. “And these students I think were completely amazed that the chairman and CEO of a major oil company isn’t a stuffed shirt. He’s just a regular person like the rest of us.”

Tillerson joined the Tejas Club, a men’s social organization at UT, and met Steve King, the marching band’s saxophone player. They lost contact with each other about 40 years ago, but King said he remembers Tillerson’s calm and delegative demeanor.

“I think he’s someone that is a good decision-maker,” King said. “I think one of the most important things is to be able to listen and to know when you have enough information to make that decision.”

In 1975, Exxon welcomed the UT graduate as a production engineer, paving the way to lead the multi-billion dollar company. About a decade later, Randall bumped into Tillerson as the two often negotiated deals next to and opposite the table.

Despite reports that members of President Donald Trump’s campaign team have contacted Russian intelligence officials, Randall said Tillerson would not engage in unethical behavior. 

“He’s not going to do anything to help out the Russians to the detriment of the United States, that’s just a bunch of malarkey,” Randall said. “Or it’s coming from people who just don’t know the man.”

Randall said Tillerson will be a good decision maker and will be straightforward with Trump.

“I’m sure he’s going to tell Trump what Trump needs to hear,” Randall said. “And if Trump doesn’t want to accept it, I guess Rex can’t do much about that, but I know Rex will tell him what he needs to hear, not maybe what he wants to hear.”