Mini-Rumination: The Robots of ExxonMobil

The April 9 edition of The New Yorker – The Curmudgeon’s favorite magazine – has an interesting article about ExxonMobil and how the oil giant approaches its lobbying in Washington.

An interesting aside in the article describes the impact of the Exxon Valdez catastrophe on the company’s culture.  It paints a not-very-pretty picture of life at ExxonMobil.

…After the wreck Exxon’s executives placed extraordinary emphasis on uniform, scientific, idiot-proof, automated systems of safety, management, finance, and business analysis.

What could be so bad about that, right?  Well, read on:

Some of the reforms made the company resemble a cult.  ExxonMobil departments worldwide organized regular safety meetings and competitions.  Workers were awarded prizes for insuring that office clerks did not leave file drawers open, lest someone bump into them.  Failing to turn off a coffee pot might draw a written reprimand.  Cars had to be backed into parking spaces, so that in case of an emergency the driver could see clearly while speeding away.  Group safety confessionals covered conduct beyond the workplace and included discussions of the correct use of a ladder while cleaning gutters at home and the danger of getting too much sun on a beach vacation.   One manager who had been at the company for twenty-eight years recalled listening to a colleague confess that while cutting the grass in his yard he had mishandled his lawnmower, causing an object to fly out of it and strike his leg.

Sounds like oil’s not the only liquid they’re spilling at ExxonMobil these days.

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