Skip to main content

An Exxon sign at a gas station in the Chicago suburb of Norridge, Illinois, on Oct. 27, 2016.Jim Young/Reuters

The first Exxon Mobil directors not appointed by the company include an executive versed in renewable fuels and a “prudent” risk taker and disrupter poised to challenge the oil company’s ways, said people familiar with his career.

Activists pressing Exxon to cut spending, boost returns and prepare for a lower-carbon future got a victory on Wednesday when shareholders elected Gregory Goff, a 64-year-old former top executive at Marathon Petroleum and Andeavor, and former Neste Oyj executive Kaisa Hietala. The vote followed a bruising battle led by a hedge fund.

The two face an insular corporate culture renowned for slow-to-change ways. Goff and Hietala will be two voices among a 12-person board that has had six directors hand-picked by Exxon’s current chief executive Darren Woods.

Exxon shareholders vote to replace at least two board members over climate concerns

Goff was unavailable to comment according to spokeswoman for hedge fund Engine No. 1. Hietala could not be immediately reached.

Both have extensive backgrounds in oil refining, a business where Exxon posted a $1.1 billion loss last year. Hietala got Finish refiner Neste into renewables and has been on the boards of investment giant Carlyle Group and paper and packaging firm Smurfit Kappa Group.

Goff in 2010 took over the predecessor to U.S. oil refiner Andeavor, built it through deals and expanded the business internationally. He later sold it to Marathon, giving investors a 1,200% return during his 8-year tenure.

Goff “understands the business very well, both the operational side and the commercial side, said John Auers of refining consultants Turner, Mason & Co. “He’s a very sharp, astute guy who takes prudent risks,” he said.

In 2013, Goff bought a BP refinery in Carson, California, integrating it with a nearby refinery his company previously purchased from Royal Dutch Shell. Both happened as competitors were exiting the West Coast.

Four years later, he jumped into Mexico’s fuel market through terminals, storage, and a retail network fed by its U.S. production. It was a bet that was rivalled that year by BP, Chevron and Exxon.

“His reputation is exceptionally high among investors,” said analyst Paul Sankey of Sankey Research. Goff will be “far more concerned with Exxon Mobil’s management structure and lack of entrepreneurship than some misguided attempt to target net-zero,” he wrote.

Goff also can succeed as an outsider at Exxon, said a person who has known him for many years but declined to be named for business reasons.

“He is disruptive in a pragmatic and constructive way,” this person said. “He’s not stuck in the status quo.”

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.