Aubrey McClendon's departure at Chesapeake Energy Corp. sets the stage for a search for his successor.
The Oklahoma City energy company said Tuesday it has retained executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to conduct a national search, but Chesapeake's directors did not spell out exactly what they are looking for in a new chief.
It's fairly unusual for a Fortune 500 company to lose its top executive without a succession plan in place.
But the discussion — and even many of the terms used — is similar to a process very common throughout the country, especially about this time of year.
Every winter, dozens of college football coaches throughout the country find themselves on the outs after becoming at odds with their athletic directors or boosters.
Sometimes the departure is simply because the coach didn't win enough. Other times, a change at the top is made because of some ethical or legal violation.
Chesapeake seems not unlike an Ohio State or Southern California, with a history of success, faithful funders and top-notch facilities, but is facing uncertainty from regulators.
Industry observers have different opinions about what kind of person would best fill the role.
Bernstein Research analyst Bob Brackett said McClendon did a good job of building Chesapeake into one of the largest natural gas and oil companies in the country, but now it needs someone better equipped to manage and develop those assets.
“If Chesapeake is indeed serious about entering a ‘harvest' mode and living closer within its means, the company is better served having a leader who embodies that strategy,” Brackett wrote Wednesday.
It's not unlike a football program relying on one coach to attract boosters and build a program and moving to a different coach to succeed in that new environment.
Phillip Weiss of Argus Research drew a similar picture, saying companies have life cycles.
“The same person that leads it through one stage of its life cycle is not necessarily the one that should lead it through the next,” Weiss said Tuesday.
Weiss went further in describing what kind of chief he would like to see for Chesapeake going forward.
“My preference would be somebody with a good financial background with a solid No. 2 guy who understands the industry from the science side,” he said.
In other words, Chesapeake most needs a coach who runs a clean program.
If necessary, that new coach can rely on strong coordinators to help the team succeed on the field, but the first priority is to make sure the program stays in compliance.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Chesapeake approached Anadarko Petroleum Executive Chairman Jim Hackett, but that he turned down the job.
Hackett is the former Devon Energy Corp. executive who led Anadarko's takeover of former Oklahoma City-based Kerr-McGee Corp.
If the report is correct, maybe it's for the best.
That could be similar to former Oklahoma State and current Louisiana State head coach Les Miles taking the reins for the Sooners.