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Exxon blasted by its founding family

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Financial Times: Exxon blasted by its founding family

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: April 30 2008 18:37 | Last updated: April 30 2008 18:37

The Rockefeller family, the longest continuous shareholder in ExxonMobil, on Wednesday blasted the world’s biggest listed oil company for failing to recognise the need to move away from oil and gas into alternative fuels.

“We are trying to keep a giant from falling,” said Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, economist and great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, the company’s founder. “ExxonMobil needs to reconnect with the forward-looking and entrepreneurial vision of my great-grandfather.”

“As he noted, ‘If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success’,” she said. “ExxonMobil is profiting in the short term from investments and decisions made many years ago, and by focusing on a narrow path that ignores the rapidly shifting energy landscape around the world, including developing nations.”

The Rockefeller family is abandoning its traditional behind-the-scenes role at Exxon as private energy companies of all stripes seek to find new ways to compete with state oil companies that now control more than 80 per cent of the world’s reserves.

The family said Exxon appeared haunted by previous ill-fated forays into nuclear and solar power and should be making greater investments in alternative fuels.

Competitors such as ConocoPhillips have called for new business models and have sought to find new, environmentally-friendly raw materials – even including chicken fat – that can be made into fuel.

Peter O’Neill, head of the family committee dealing with ExxonMobil and great-great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, said Exxon researchers told him in September that they had identified two promising alternative energy sources, but had not made any investments in them.

“The takeaway was that they are not moving fast enough,” he said.

Alan Jeffers, Exxon spokesman, told the Financial Times that oil and gas would provide up to 80 per cent of the world’s energy needs over the next 30 years and that “to abandon that would not be wise”.

Exxon began as part of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, but the family has not had a representative on the board since 1911.

However, its name still resonates with investors and it could help build support at the May 28 annual meeting for shareholder resolutions calling for an independent chairman to prod Exxon to “look beyond its short-term focus on oil and gas”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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