A slumping stock market forced Aubrey McClendon, the high-profile head of one of the state’s most dynamic energy companies, to sell "substantially all” of his 33.4 million shares of Chesapeake Energy stock, he disclosed Friday. "I am very disappointed,” McClendon said in a statement issued after markets closed. "These involuntary and unexpected sales were precipitated by the extraordinary circumstances of the worldwide financial crisis.” Much of McClendon’s estimated $3 billion fortune was represented by his Chesapeake holdings. He has interests in real estate, hedge funds and in other ventures through a venture capital fund. McClendon also is a minority owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder. No U.S. chief executive officer has bought more of his own company’s stock in recent years than McClendon, even as the shares reached all-time highs. His appetite for Chesapeake stock made him "a darling of Wall Street,” Tulsa money manager Jake Dollarhide said. But his purchases were made on margin, meaning he used borrowed money. As the value of the stock fell, McClendon was forced to raise cash to meet margin calls. Recent losses — Chesapeake shares have plummeted 60 percent in the past three weeks — left him unable to fulfill those requirements. McClendon has been a dynamic leader of the fast-growing company, which has carried heavy debt loads to finance its expansion. "They have always been the risk takers, the gunslingers,” Dollarhide said. "When it has paid off, it has paid off handsomely. But in their history, shareholders have experienced a wild ride.” It’s not known whether McClendon’s losses will affect his ownership position with the Thunder or curtail his philanthropic efforts, Chesapeake Senior Vice President Tom Price Jr. said. "Aubrey wants to see Oklahoma grow and prosper, and through his generosity and philanthropy has done that, not just through Chesapeake Energy and the corporation, but personally and directly,” Price said. "And when the situation has righted itself, he will continue to demonstrate his leadership and charitable heart.”
‘My confidence ... remains undiminished’Despite his losses, McClendon, 48, said he still believes in Chesapeake, the nation’s largest producer of natural gas. "I have been the company’s largest individual shareholder for the past three years and frequently purchased additional shares of stock on margin as an expression of my complete confidence in the value of the company’s strategy and assets,” McClendon said in his statement. "My confidence in Chesapeake remains undiminished, and I look forward to rebuilding my ownership position in the company in the months and years ahead.” Bob Rader, senior vice president of Capital West Securities, said he was saddened by McClendon’s loss. "It’s unfortunate, but that’s personal,” Rader said. "It doesn’t affect the company.” McClendon remains among the nation’s highest-paid executives, earning a compensation package last year valued at $25.5 million. Chesapeake announced on Friday that it is planning to sell assets and cut back on its land-leasing program that has fueled the company’s impressive growth.