Sturgis Hall is made possible by a donation from the Roy and Christine Sturgis Trust. I wonder who Roy and Christine are as I take my seat in what is the atrium of the flagship edifice of the Clinton School of Public Policy. Two columns of metal folding chairs face a podium set against a backdrop featuring the school logo tiled across a vinyl canvass. The growing assemblage waits for tonight’s speaker, the latest in the Clinton School Speaker Series.
I scan the room.
Skip Rutherford, the school’s dean and former U.S. congressman*, is in attendance, smiling and hosting. So is a boulder-headed man who chews on an expensive, unlit cigar. Arkansas State representative Tom Lowry is also said to be pressing palms. A man named Art sits next me.
Art is like most of the people present. The polished elderly. The balding coifed. I feel a little underdressed. Nearly everyone is smartly attired, and the men wear somber ties. I absently jot a few scribbles in my notebook, looking important.
“How do they get these people?” asks Art, referring to the speaker series. You can tell he’s the kind of guy who can’t sit more than five minutes without introducing himself. I shrug, and suggest that the Clinton name still has gravity. Without thinking, I ask Art what brings him to tonight’s lecture.
“Seems like a guy who would know his topic,” said Art. I agree. I hoped Art wouldn’t ask me the same question. I didn’t want to say, “I write a blog few people read, and I once said some mean things about Jim Mulva.”
James Mulva is the CEO of the world’s third largest petroleum company, ConocoPhillips. As a bonus, in 2005 he served as chairman of the American Petroleum Institute, the Angry Czeck’s sworn enemy.
In the summer of 2007, when oil was marching up to $147 a barrel, Jim paid a visit to the Today Show to explain his company’s handsome $15 billion quarterly profit. Having poured $50 worth of Jim’s pricey product into my tank, the Angry Czeck was not satisfied with Jim’s jovial instance that the consumer was to blame for high prices, and that his new profits were “going right back into the company.”
Jim didn’t care what $4.00 a gallon meant to the economy and his customers. He only cared about his lucky shareholders. This, of course, is a CEO’s only perspective, yet I was irked anyway. I wrote mean things. To be exact, I might have written “I’d rather have each hair on my testicles plucked than give ConocoPhillips another $3.80 worth of gas.”
Since the salad days of Summer 2007, the price of oil has dropped from nearly $150 a barrel to around $40. ConocoPhillips has recently announced losses of $30 billion. A barrel of gas needs to be around $60 for CP to start seeing black again. In the meantime, like many companies, CP is laying people off and cutting costs. (They’re not, however, reducing shareholder dividends, according to the awesomely named CFO of ConococPhillips, Sig Cornelius. Thank Christ!)
Jim, at least in the articles I read, seemed to take the losses in stride. Tycooning, after all, is a marathon and not a sprint. He calmly announced that while his largest consumer, Americans, were not going to increase demand (and oil prices) any time soon, he was confident that the company would be churning out its usual big profits in a few months.
So imagine my surprise when Jim Mulva, standing before his hosts at the Clinton School of Public Policy, spent 45 minutes outwardly feeling sorry for himself.
Jim lost weight.
In 2007, during his appearance on the Today Show, Mr. Mulva was a little on the chubby side. His cheeks were flush with profit. His eyes danced merrily, for his were the eyes of a man who had probably just witnessed dozens of very wealthy white guys executing awkward high-fives in a richly appointed conference room.
Today, Jim was significantly trimmer, as though part of ConocoPhillips cost savings included fewer steaks and lobster for the CEO.
After an introduction from Skip Rutherford and, interestingly, a student from Brazil, Jim took the podium and immediately began feeling sorry for himself.
The oil industry, according to Jim, is being unfairly picked on. Singled out. Bullied.
He wants to sprinkle oil derricks in the Gulf of Mexico, and Congress won’t let him.
He wants to make an honest buck, but his industry shells out 50% in taxes.
His is the hardworking product that powers the world, yet it is impractical alternative fuels that receive all the hugs and kisses
Jim just wants respect.
But he is not without his surprises. Jim also acknowledges the existence of global warming, and even admits that his industry significantly contributes to it. Jim went on to say that his industry is making a “substantial investment” in alternative fuels. (How substantial he neglected to say.)
Furthermore, Jim wants to make us all more energy efficient while exploring geo-thermal energy, solar energy, and cellulous-based ethanol. He wants to do this while poking holes in Alaska and along the shoreline to ensure, in his view, that America is not held hostage by the sheiks.
Jim concludes his talk by reiterating that the industry that gave us leaded gasoline and combined forces with GM to expunge city trolley systems is getting a bad rap from consumers and lawmakers. He’s the good guy! Can’t the ninnies in Washington see that?
At last, Jim informs us that he will take a few questions. He would take more, and even stay a couple hours to chat, but he just learned that he has to catch a plane to Europe.*
Fifteen minutes into Jim’s lecture, I’m formulating a question for him.
I’m not here to confront Jim Mulva. He’s a guest of Arkansas, a guest of the Clinton School, and I don’t want to be The Jerk. But I don’t feel like letting him completely off the hook, either. Somehow, I have to strike a balance.
Once, my Angry Dad had, in a challenging tone, asked me if I would say to President George W. Bush in person the things I wrote on The Angry Czeck. I shrugged. “I’d probably just ask him about his dog,” I admitted. Bush was the President of the United States. Tossing a shoe at him is wrong. Tossing a verbal jab at him is simply good blogging.
So in my big brain I formulated a question to Jim Mulva that would appear innocent enough without betraying my principles.
Not exactly Sasha Cohen material. I agonize on whether to use the word “force” rather than “compel” as members of Jim’s audience toss him a few softballs. By the time I decide that “compel” is more diplomatic, Skip Rutherford announces that Jim Mulva has answered his final question.
A little bummed by the missed opportunity, I settle for joining the queue that waits to shake Jim’s hand in appreciation. Art is there. He beams as he and Jim share pleasantries. The young man ahead of me actually has the nerve to hand Jim a business card. When it is my turn, I simply take Jim’s hand and say, “Thanks for coming.”
Jim smiles, his eyes already in Europe. “Yes. Of course.”
His hand is very dry. And very soft.
After the lecture, I call Mrs. Angry to let her know that Jim was finished, and that I was heading back to the office to finish some work and write this post. Mrs. Angry wants to know if the turnout was good, and if Jim Mulva was an interesting speaker. Yes on both counts, I tell her.
As I speak to my wife, I see an enormous black GMC Yukon slowly pulling away from Sturgis Hall. In the driver’s seat sits a man wearing a distinctly-shaped hat. A chauffer. In the back, I make out the profile of ConocoPhillips CEO, James Mulva. The giant car rolls away, presumably destined for the Little Rock International Airport, where a plane awaits to take him to Europe.
* The Think Tank was bastard enough to remind me that Skip Rutherford is, in fact, NOT a former Congressman. Remember, when accepting the Angry Czeck’s word for facts, refer to the artfully worded disclaimer located at the bottom of the page. – AC
* 21:25 in the video.