The hedge-fund manager who went to battle with Exxon

(iStock) ExxonMobil headquarters in Irving, Texas

Christopher James’s decision to do battle with one of the world’s biggest oil companies began with a family dinner in 2019, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The hedge-fund manager’s school-aged sons asked him how he could consider himself an environmentalist if he invested in energy companies, and the father struggled to explain himself.

“As I was listening to myself talk, I thought `I am really splitting hairs on this.’” One of his sons, he said, “had this look on his face where his forehead wrinkled. He didn’t buy it.”

As The Wall Street Journal reports, James convinced Wall Street’s biggest money managers two years later to back a dramatic change in board oversight at Exxon Mobil Corp. It was, as the newspaper describes it, a watershed moment in the effort seeking more environmental, social and governance modifications at the nation’s biggest companies.

He contributed nearly $250 million of his own money to support the campaign and launch a new fund called Engine No. 1 LLC. The resulting shareholder vote, tallied last month, secured board seats for three of his handpicked candidates.

The 51-year-old was an unlikely catalyst for change at an energy giant. After making a name for himself during the dot-com boom and bust, he operated an Illinois coal mine and built storage facilities used by the oil-and-gas companies.

Away from work, however, he supported conservationist causes. The Exxon campaign offered a chance to align his personal values with an investment thesis—that the giants of the oil industry would drop in value unless they embraced a transition to renewable energy.

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