The impact on the corporate world was mixed. Most of these transformations boosted profits, but their speed and complexity created volatile conditions for business. And a company such as ExxonMobil is allergic to volatility.
“Exxon’s investments in a particular oil and gas field could be premised on a production life span of forty or more years,” writes Steve Coll. “During that time the United States might change its president and its foreign and energy policies at least half a dozen times.” Overseas it is even worse, with coups and revolutions and violence even more common.
“We see governments come and go,” Raymond once remarked, with considerable understatement.
So can a powerful corporation wield enough influence to evade and manage global volatility, and make it work on its behalf? In the case of ExxonMobil, it can, and with great success. “The corporation’s lobbyists bent and shaped American foreign policy,” writes Coll, “as well as economic, climate, chemical and environmental regulation.”
Getting the story of how it did so is the goal of this ambitious book. Coll, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a former managing editor of The Washington Post and now a New Yorker staff writer, has a knack for prying open closed institutions. His book “Ghost Wars” chronicled the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan pre-9/11, while his book “The Bin Ladens” painstakingly documented the saga of that family. In a recent interview with Texas Monthly magazine, Coll asserted that “reporting on Exxon was not only harder than reporting on the bin Ladens, it was harder than reporting on the CIA. . . . They have a culture of intimidation . . . they make people nervous, they make people afraid.”
Yet, ExxonMobil has met its match in Coll, an elegant writer and dogged reporter. More than 400 interviews, thousands of pages of previously classified documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, obscure court records and careful scouring of WikiLeaks documents provide the foundation of a fascinating story of how corporate power is exerted at the highest levels and across the globe. Coll traveled to Indonesia, Nigeria, Chad, Russia, Equatorial Guinea, among other places, as well as ExxonMobil’s headquarters in Irving, Tex., and, of course, Washington, the city where the company’s influence is as pervasive as it is effective.