© Copyright 2012, The Oklahoman
New Chesapeake Energy Corp. Chairman Archie Dunham has no fear of challenging situations.
When he became a director of deepwater drilling company Pride International in 2005, Dunham stepped into a massive cleanup and overhaul as the company found itself deep in debt and embattled with federal violations for allegedly bribing foreign government officials.
“It took a number of years, a totally reconstituted board and a new CEO to make Pride back into an outstanding company,” Dunham said.
Dunham, an Ada native, once again is taking on a challenge as he leads a reconstructed board at Chesapeake, which has seen its stock price tumble on falling natural gas prices and heavy debt.
The company also is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and faces at least 17 shareholder lawsuits after it was revealed in April that CEO Aubrey McClendon used his personal stake in Chesapeake wells as collateral for up to $1.5 billion in personal loans.
Dunham retired as chairman at ConocoPhillips Corp. in 2004 after a 38-year career at the Houston-based energy company and its predecessors, including then-Ponca City-based Conoco Inc. Under Dunham's watch, Conoco Inc. completed what was then the world's largest initial public offering and grew into the third largest company in the United States with operations in 55 countries.
Since stepping down from ConocoPhillips, Dunham has served as a director on several corporate and civic boards, including railroad company Union Pacific, building company Louisiana Pacific and metals and chemicals company Phelps Dodge. He also has served on President George W. Bush's Commission on White House Fellowships.
Dunham also isn't afraid of long-term commitments.
Dunham has been married to his childhood sweetheart for 52 years.
Archie and Linda Dunham met when he was 15 and she was 13. They waited to marry until he graduated from the University of Oklahoma and was commissioned into the military. The military would not let ROTC members marry until they became officers.
“That was a good discipline, because we didn't have any money anyway,” Dunham said. “So we had a long dating and a long engagement.”
Dunham graduated on a Sunday and was commissioned that afternoon. The couple had their wedding rehearsal the next day and were married on Tuesday.
Former Pride CEO Louis Raspino said Dunham's character and commitment makes him the perfect choice to lead Chesapeake's board.
“He's going to be very tough, and he's going to be very disciplined,” Raspino said. “His opinions will always be governed by his very strong moral compass. He has a strong personality and makes his opinions known. I think Chesapeake needs that.”
Raspino became Pride's CEO about the same time that Dunham joined the board. The two worked closely together until Pride sold to London-based Ensco last year for $7.3 billion in cash and stock.
“The company at the time was an extremely broken company,” Raspino said. “It was in debt. It had poor infrastructure. It had grown in an uncontrolled way. It didn't have strategic focus.”
Raspino, Dunham and the board replaced most of the senior managers, sold $2 billion in assets, spun off other assets and invested more than $4 billion in growth in core areas.
Six years later, Pride became one of the strongest companies in its industry, with more than 4,000 employees worldwide and drilling operations in Brazil and West Africa.