Shareholders of Exxon Mobil Corp., whose last chief executive took home $147 million when he retired, overwhelmingly rejected resolutions to rein in compensation at the oil company's annual meeting on Wednesday.
Chairman and Chief Executive Rex W. Tillerson said some shareholders sent a signal by withholding votes for board members who approved former CEO Lee R. Raymond's widely publicized pay and pension packages.
"We all recognize that there has been a lot of controversy and comment around compensation," said Tillerson, who took over in January after Raymond retired. "Probably most likely what we were seeing is some people voting their disapproval of how that was handled."
Raymond was paid $49 million in cash and restricted stock last year, then got a $98 million lump-sum pension payment.
In comments after his first shareholder meeting as CEO of the world's largest publicly traded oil company, Tillerson said it's up to Exxon Mobil directors to prevent him getting a Raymond-like package in a few years. He hasn't asked them to limit his compensation, but "they know how to reach me," he said.
Tillerson also said the company was sensitive to motorists' complaints about high gasoline prices but can't do anything about the situation. He said Exxon Mobil would keep searching for oil, but it would take several years for supply and demand to even out.
Exxon Mobil earned $36.1 billion last year — the highest ever by any U.S. corporation — helping spur talk in Congress of a windfall-profits tax on oil companies. Tillerson said it would be a mistake to let frustration with high oil prices affect energy policy.
The company maintains its disdain for alternative fuels, which Tillerson said won't be a practical replacement for oil and gas for decades. Tillerson said Exxon Mobil won't invest in lower-return products.
Like past Exxon Mobil meetings, Wednesday's event attracted environmental protesters who accuse the company of funding groups that question the link between global warming and the burning of hydrocarbons such as oil and coal.
However, most of the 13 shareholder resolutions — all opposed by the board — dealt with corporate-governance issues, including three on executive and director compensation. None of the three got more than 12.9 percent support, according to the company.
Some institutional investors spoke out during the meeting about Raymond's compensation.
"Why do our lowest-paid employees have to work 1 1/2 years to earn what Mr. Raymond earned in one hour?" asked Julie N.W. Goodridge of a Boston investment firm that sponsored one of the unsuccessful resolutions. She said that shifting executive pay to regular employees "will help polish Exxon Mobil's tarnished image."
A firm that advises large shareholders recommended withholding votes for four directors on Exxon Mobil's compensation committee. The North Carolina treasurer had indicated this week that his state's pension fund would withhold votes from five directors in protest over Raymond's compensation.
Those four directors received 79 to 82 percent of the shares cast, while the other eight directors were re-elected with margins in the mid-90s, a spokesman said.
A resolution to require that directors get a majority vote to be elected passed with 52 percent support. Longtime company officials couldn't remember shareholders approving a measure over the board's opposition. Tillerson said the board would consider the issue but made no promises about the outcome.
Shareholders rejected by a 92 percent vote a proposal to prohibit the company from sponsoring groups or events that discriminate. It was aimed at Exxon's sponsorship of the Masters golf tournament, held at a country club that doesn't allow women to join.
Before the meeting, shareholders noshed on doughnuts and viewed company exhibits in the lobby of the ornate Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.
Across the street, about 50 demonstrators from a group called Expose Exxon donned oil drums and chanted slogans such as "Human need, not corporate greed." Two dozen police officers watched the group, and a police helicopter hovered above.
Most shareholders entered from an underground parking garage and never saw the protesters.
"We're asking Exxon Mobil to start investing in clean alternative renewable energy like its competitors do," said the director of Washington-based Expose Exxon, Shawnee Hoover. She also criticized the company's funding of groups that question scientific theories that the burning of oil-based fuels are contributing to global warming.