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Investor group pushes Exxon board for new leadership to challenge CEO

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FILE PHOTO: An Exxon gas station is seen in Houston
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By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Jennifer Hiller

(Reuters) - An investor group on Thursday called on Exxon Mobil's board to recruit directors and senior executives with energy and clean fuels experience, echoing calls at the center of an ongoing proxy fight.

The Coalition for a Responsible Exxon (CURE), which includes Seattle City Employees Retirement System, Dana Investment Advisors and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, called on the oil company to tie executive pay more closely to financial performance and greenhouse gas reduction, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

Exxon shareholders on May 26 are set to vote on the biggest corporate battle to be decided on environmental, social and governance criteria. Pitted against Exxon is a tiny hedge fund, Engine No. 1, that has nominated four directors.

A spokesperson for CURE declined to say how many shares of Exxon its 135 members hold. Overall, the group represents $2.5 trillion in assets, it said.

CURE proposes broadening board and management experience, and splitting the Exxon chairman and chief executive roles. Current outside directors include only one member with energy industry experience and overall the board does not have the "confidence or expertise to challenge a powerful CEO/Chairman," it wrote.

The combined CEO/chairman benefits shareholders and executive pay is determined by a committee of non-employee directors and gear to provide long-term shareholder returns, Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said.

The group's report did not recommend votes for or against existing Exxon directors. Its members do plan to vote for new board leadership, the report said.

Citing what it said was the lack of an energy transition strategy, it called for new hires with experience "in the energy and climate sectors" that could direct investments toward "the energy transition and a decarbonizing global energy economy."

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Jennifer Hiller; Editing by Will Dunham)