He rose from his beginnings as an ambitious landman to CEO of a $13 billion natural gas giant over the past 25 years, driven by the daredevil approach that led to the label of America's Most Reckless Billionaire.
Now Aubrey McClendon is poised to leave the company he co-founded nearly 25 years ago, leaving many to wonder what comes next for the only man ever to serve as CEO at Chesapeake Energy Corp.
McClendon, 53, is stepping down from his position fronting the company he started in 1989 with former partner Tom Ward, who is now CEO of SandRidge Energy Inc.
McClendon cited “philosophical differences” with Chesapeake's reconstituted board of directors Tuesday in the news release announcing his impending departure from the Oklahoma City-based company.
The board is wrapping up a review of his personal finances, spurred by questions about his dealings with lenders doing business with Chesapeake, but the company said that had nothing to do with its move to find a new chief executive. The review so far has not found any signs of wrongdoing by McClendon.
McClendon, who will leave Chesapeake on April 1, has not spoken publicly about his plans, but his employment contract bars him from competing with the company for at least six months.
The six-month noncompete period begins when all severance payments have been made, which is scheduled for Dec. 31, 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter.
McClendon easily could busy himself during that time with his commercial real estate and philanthropic ventures.
Morningstar analyst Mark Hanson said McClendon's departure from Chesapeake was no surprise given the turmoil at the company for much of the past year.
“McClendon was stripped of his chairman title after a boardroom takeover last spring, and given his increasingly tenuous grasp on the levers of power of the firm he controlled since 1989, we can't say we blame him for wanting to hit the reset button,” Hanson wrote this week in a research note for clients.
Another industry analyst predicted McClendon will remain in the oil and natural gas business after leaving Chesapeake, but he may find it harder to attract investors because of his reputation as a gambler.
“I'll have to be very fair and brutally honest. I am not sure many people would want to invest because ... his track record is a big gambler,” Oppenheimer analyst Fadel Gheit said. “He makes big calls.