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Exxon Mobil Corp has lost two veteran crude oil traders from its U.S. energy trading group and a third is leaving its British unit, according to people familiar with the matter, in a continued exodus of top talent from the oil major.

Exxon last year reversed course on an expansion of its oil and petroleum products trading as fuel demand tumbled during the pandemic. The company suffered a $22.4 billion loss in 2020, leading to deep job and cost cuts across the business.

Veteran oil traders Michael Paradise and Adam Buller, both of whom joined Exxon in 2019 after lengthy careers elsewhere, resigned last week, the people said. Paul Butcher, an oil trader in Britain, plans to leave in September, another person familiar with the operation said.

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Butcher was recruited in 2018 as a North Sea crude oil trader and adviser on accounting for transactions to its Leatherhead unit near London. He had previously worked for BP Plc, Glencore Plc and Vitol SA.

Exxon declined to comment on the departures, citing personnel matters.

“We’re pleased with our progress over the past couple of years to grow our team and capabilities,” said spokesman Casey Norton. Exxon’s scale and reach “give our trading teams a broad footprint and unique knowledge and insights” that can generate value for shareholders.

VETERAN DEPARTURES

Paradise was a highly regarded crude oil trader who joined Exxon from Noble Group and was previously director of crude oil trading at Citigroup Inc and BNP Paribas . Buller joined Exxon in late 2019 after trading oil for Petrolama Energy Canada and Spain’s Repsol SA. He earlier was director of international oil trading at BG Group.

Both will join Pilot Flying J, a closely-held Knoxville, Tennessee, company that operates retail refuelling centres in North America. It has expanded into crude marketing, fuel transportation and storage and has is own trading unit run by a former Noble Group executive.

A spokesperson at Pilot Flying J declined to comment.

Exxon recruited Paradise, Buller and a cadre of experienced traders from rivals and international oil trading firms hoping to replicate BP and Royal Dutch Shell’s success in trading. It initially saw the expansion as a way to profit from its knowledge of customer demand, oil production, pipelines and fuel shipping.

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BP and Shell’s trading groups took advantage of last year’s market volatility to generate enormous trading profits, buying oil as it fell below $20 a barrel last spring. They sold it at higher prices for future delivery, posting multibillion-dollar profits for the year.

But Exxon pulled back trading as the market dropped and sought to preserve its capital to sustain its shareholder dividend while rivals cut their payouts.

Exxon systematically avoided risk by pulling most of the capital needed for speculative trades, subjecting most trades to high-level management review, and limiting some traders to working only with long-time Exxon customers.

It later laid off some staff and offered early retirement packages to others, Reuters reported. Exxon does not separately report the performance of its trading unit.

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