‘He’s more than a business executive – he’s a world-class player,’ Mr Trump said.
He called it ‘a great advantage’ that Mr Tillerson, who is also chairman of the energy giant, knew ‘many of the players’, and did ‘massive deals in Russia’.
Mr Trump added: ‘He’s in charge of an oil company that’s pretty much double the size of its next nearest competitor.’
A father-of-four, committed Christian and ex-president of the Boy Scouts of America, Mr Tillerson was dubbed ‘T Rex’ by former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
His nomination is reportedly close to being confirmed, although it has drawn sharp criticism in the US. It could even be blocked if just three Republican senators join forces with Democrats in the Senate.
‘I don’t know what Mr Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was, but I’ll tell you it is a matter of concern to me,’ said Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate.
‘You want to give the President of the United States the benefit of the doubt because the people have spoken. But Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.’
Mr McCain insisted the Senate would give Mr Tillerson a ‘fair hearing’ if he was chosen by the president-elect.
Mr Tillerson, who has made several large donations to the Republican Party, is expected to be named as America’s top diplomat next week. Ex-US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has been mooted as his deputy.
However, former senior McCain aide Mark Salter predicted Mr Tillerson would struggle to pass the confirmation process.
He tweeted: ‘Tillerson would sell out Nato for… his pal, Vlad.
‘Should be a rough confirmation hearing, and a no vote on the Senate floor.’ Before Mr Tillerson took over the world’s biggest publicly owned oil firm ten years ago, he was head of its Russian operation, which inevitably involved establishing friendly relations with the Kremlin.
He hammered out multi-billion-dollar deals with Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft, and is friends with Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s executive chairman.
Mr Sechin was formerly Mr Putin’s deputy prime minister, and has been described as Russia’s second most powerful man.
Mr Tillerson negotiated a 2011 energy partnership with Mr Putin to exploit oil in the Arctic that the Russian president said would be worth as much as £397billion.