Aubrey McClendon is stepping down as the only chief executive in the history of Chesapeake Energy Corp., but that hasn't dimmed his expectations for the company's future.
And the company's chairman Tuesday assured its 12,000 employees Chesapeake is not for sale, nor does it intend to curtail its operations or eliminate perks like on campus child care and restaurants.
“The board and management believe strongly in the culture of excellence at Chesapeake and are committed to seeing this culture thrive in the future,” Archie W. Dunham wrote.
McClendon, 53, will retire from Chesapeake on April 1, but he will continue to serve as its chief executive until his successor is identified.
“I have the utmost confidence in you and the company's future,” McClendon wrote in an email to employees Tuesday, “and I will always treasure the time we have spent together building Chesapeake into the unique and dynamic company that it is today.”
McClendon's reign at the company he co-founded ends in turmoil, as Chesapeake's board and federal regulators investigate how he mixed personal and company business. Chesapeake also is being scrutinized by the U.S. Department of Justice and Michigan officials for potential antitrust violations involving lease sales there in 2010.
The company's troubles led to a shareholder revolt last year, resulting in McClendon being replaced as chairman by former Conoco executive Dunham amid a board makeover led by Chesapeake's two largest shareholders.
McClendon acknowledged “certain philosophical differences” with the board led to his decision to retire, but he told employees the separation will be amicable.
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Executive Director Roy Williams said he was saddened to hear of McClendon's plan to retire.
“It's really a great loss for the community,” he said. “He has really shown how a company can make a difference in a community.”
Williams said he hopes McClendon will continue to use his entrepreneurial skills to build on his legacy in Oklahoma City after he leaves Chesapeake.
Chesapeake's board has retained executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to find McClendon's successor. The search is expected to include internal and external candidates, with input from McClendon.
In the interim, McClendon will work closely with top Chesapeake executives Steve Dixon and Nick Dell'Osso to hand off some of his day-to-day responsibilities at the company.
In his email Tuesday, Dunham told employees that Dixon, Chesapeake's chief operating officer, and Dell'Osso, the company's chief financial officer, will be able to address any rumors that arise with the news of McClendon's retirement.
Dunham also expressed his optimism about the company's future.
“We are at an important transition point for our company, but it is also a point of great opportunity,” Dunham wrote.
Chesapeake said McClendon will remain an important partner because he still owns company stock and interests in some of its wells through the Founders Well Participation Program, which will remain in place through June 2014.
The participation program had been part of McClendon's compensation package since 1993, but he agreed to negotiate an early end to it in April after it was reported he had secured more than $1 billion in loans to fund his share of the company's well costs. Shareholders had approved it to run through 2015.