After spending his entire career at Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum and its predecessor Oklahoma City-based Kerr-McGee Corp., Doug Lawler was not looking for a change.
But a conversation with Chesapeake Energy Corp. Chairman Archie Dunham convinced him to become the firm's second CEO.
“First and foremost, I saw his conviction and his confidence in the company,” Lawler told The Oklahoman on Friday. “And I saw in an alignment with the shareholders and the support of management and the board that there would be a significant opportunity here.”
Lawler will take over at Chesapeake on Monday.
When he does, he will lead a company that has faced a year of change as it has battled shareholders in a proxy fight, replaced seven of its eight directors, sold billions of dollars in assets and changed its focus from gathering properties to developing the acreage it holds.
The changes have left Chesapeake in a strong position, Lawler said.
“I don't think there could be a more exciting time to be at Chesapeake,” Lawler said. “There have been so many good things done by the company in the past several years. I'm excited to be a part of it, and I look forward to working with this team and building on the success they've had in the past. It's an exciting time because there are so many good things going on here.”
25 years in the industry
Lawler entered the oil and gas industry in 1988, a time when many in the industry were fleeing.
“I loved it,” Lawler said. “It gave me a lot of opportunities to have a lot of different roles. I never really had an interest in doing anything different.”
He developed an interest in the oil and gas industry while pursuing a degree in petroleum engineering at Colorado School of Mines.
Besides his formal education, he also learned important life and career lessons as linebacker and strong safety for his college football team.
“I was a little bit too small and a little bit too slow, but I still had fun playing,” Lawler said. “The benefit of competitive sports is that it forges great friendships and as an old mentor of mine said, it taught me to get knocked down seven times and get up eight times.”
Lawler spent the next 25 years working for Kerr-McGee and Anadarko, which bought the Oklahoma City company in 2006.
His experience at Kerr-McGee and Anadarko made it difficult for him to leave Houston.
“It took a compelling opportunity, a compelling challenge,” he said. “It took the opportunity set that I see at Chesapeake and I think all the employees see at Chesapeake and the board members see at Chesapeake to pull me away.”
Watching Oklahoma City's renaissance
While Lawler has not previously lived in Oklahoma, he has visited often. During his last year at Kerr-McGee, he commuted to the Oklahoma City headquarters once a week.
Through his regular visits over the past two and a half decades, Lawler has witnessed the city's transformation.
“There is an energy in the city I see now that I didn't see originally,” Lawler said. “In 1988, Oklahoma City was somewhat depressed. The city was just not as vibrant as it is today ... Just seeing the growth has been exciting to watch. Chesapeake has been a big part of that.”
Chesapeake has contributed to Oklahoma City's growth in part through its strong support of Oklahoma City nonprofit organizations and community efforts. Many in the community have expressed concern that the giving will change now that the company has said it will work to focus on reducing spending.
Lawler, however, said the company's commitment to the community will continue.
“Everyone should be comfortable that we will continue to be a strong participant in all the communities in which we operate,” Lawler said. “I think, as with any organization, that has to be monitored prudently to make sure it's at the right level, but I don't think there should be any concern that Chesapeake wouldn't continue to be a great partner to the city, a great partner to the state and a strong proponent of oil and gas development in the U.S.”
Chesapeake Chairman Archie Dunham addressed the company's charitable giving during its annual meeting Friday morning. Dunham pointed to the $1 million donation the company made to the recent tornado recovery and the hundreds of Chesapeake employees who volunteered to help with the cleanup.
“Chesapeake has been an important part of this community and an important part of the state,” Dunham said. “We will continue to do so.”
Following a legend
Lawler will become only the second CEO in Chesapeake's history. He will succeed co-founder Aubrey McClendon, who shaped Chesapeake's unique corporate culture and hired almost everyone at the company.
McClendon will continue to be associated with Chesapeake as he owns up to 2.5 percent of nearly every well the company has drilled and will drill for the next year.
McClendon also has created American Energy Partners, a new natural gas company with a headquarters just two blocks from Chesapeake's campus.
Lawler said he has not yet met with McClendon, but that they have traded notes and plan to meet soon.
“I have the upmost respect for Aubrey,” Lawler said. “I think he has done a fantastic job with Chesapeake. He has been a visionary and his leadership in the industry has been outstanding. He and I and all employees and board share the same goal in that we want the best for Chesapeake.
“His (McClendon') goal and interest in seeing Chesapeake do well are no different from mine and Chesapeake's employees. I can't say enough good things about what Aubrey's done. While we've moved forward on this different chapter, I'll do my best to represent his interests and the things he's done and work with the employees and the board to advance Chesapeake.”
Lawler was short on details about changes the company will make in the future, including on commercial real estate development, finances and operational focus. He pointed out that he won't officially start at Chesapeake until Monday.
“I'll be working closely with the management team and with employees on making those decisions,” he said. “I think the key in all those decisions is going to be based on how we can add the most value to our shareholders and continue to grow the company in the most profitable way we can.”
The move to Oklahoma City also will bring Lawler close to his brother, David, who in April was named chief operating officer at Oklahoma City-based SandRidge Energy Corp.
“I'm happy to be in the same state and city as my brother. We've always been close,” he said.
David Lawler said he is excited about living close to his brother again.
“Our careers have placed us in the same city once before, and during that period, we made the most of the time we had together,” David Lawler said. “In The Woodlands, Texas, we attended the same church, played family soccer games, held cookouts and participated in various running and biking events. My personal favorite was our continuous effort to form a family pyramid on water skis when boating on Lake Conroe. We look forward to building great memories together here in Oklahoma City.”
David Lawler also said his brother will be a great fit at Chesapeake.
“From a professional point of view, I'm delighted for the citizens of Oklahoma and the stakeholders of Chesapeake Energy Corp.,” he said. “Although I'm clearly biased, I think those that know Doug would agree with me when I share that he is a strong servant leader. He is honest, humble and he possesses a material level of business acumen. I'm certain he will be a valuable member of the Chesapeake team.”
About the CEO