In his first week on the job, new SandRidge Energy Inc. CEO James Bennett met with about half of the company's 2,000 employees to lay out his vision for the future.
Bennett said Thursday he is bullish about SandRidge's potential.
“I've been telling the employees, and I do believe this, we're at an inflection point now,” the 44-year-old Texas native said in an interview with The Oklahoman. “We've got a great group of talented employees that I'm very proud of. All the distractions and announcements over the last six months are behind us.
“Right now we're focused on executing our business plan.”
He said SandRidge is committed to getting the most out of its holdings in the oil-rich Mississippian formation in Oklahoma and Kansas.
“We've got 2 million acres in the Mississippian asset that are generating very good returns for us. We've got a good offshore business,” Bennett said. “We've taken our net debt levels down from $4 billion at year end down to $1.9 billion at the end of the first quarter. And we've got $2 billion of liquidity to go execute our business plan, so I say we're at an inflection point and positioned very well right now.”
Bennett was elevated to CEO on June 19 when SandRidge's board opted to part ways with founder Tom Ward, who had come under fire from shareholders for the poor performance of the company's stock.
SandRidge settled a proxy fight with shareholder TPG-Axon Capital in March after the hedge fund accused Ward of improperly benefiting from the company's dealings.
Bennett was tabbed at that time as the potential interim CEO as the SandRidge board, which had expanded to include four TPG-Axon representatives, mulled over Ward's future.
The board decided to part ways with Ward even though an independent investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. It also decided to make Bennett the company's permanent chief executive.
Industry veteran Duke Ligon, who is chairman of Oklahoma City-based PostRock Energy Corp. and Blueknight Energy Partners, said Bennett was a “fantastic pick” for SandRidge.
Ligon, who has known Bennett since his days in private equity in New York more than a decade ago, said the two men served on PostRock's board together as the company was struggling to emerge from the financial problems that landed two executives of its predecessor company in federal prison.
“We inherited quite a mess at PostRock,” Ligon said. “James worked tirelessly with the finance guys on that.”
He praised Bennett as an energetic leader who is focused and hard working, so he was not surprised that he was chosen to succeed Ward at SandRidge.
“It's a great hire,” Ligon said.
Committed to community
Bennett joined SandRidge as executive vice president and chief financial officer in January 2011. He came to Oklahoma City from asset manager GSO Capital Partners, which was among SandRidge's earliest investors in 2007.
Bennett said he was drawn here by the opportunity to work for Ward at SandRidge, a company with a culture of working hard and doing the right thing.
That culture remains, Bennett said, thanks to SandRidge's talented employees. He praised their poise and character during the difficult times facing the company.