AUBREY K. McClendon's diminishing role at Chesapeake Energy Corp. brings a measure of relief for some investors, a measure of sadness for McClendon's associates and perhaps a measure of continued uncertainty for Chesapeake employees.
We'd like to offer a measure of perspective, one that we noted last spring when news of McClendon's business practices began to surface: Chesapeake is but one component of Oklahoma City's thriving energy sector and McClendon is but one player in a company that has many outstanding executives and employees.
Yet it's impossible to isolate Chesapeake from the city's economic revitalization since the firm was founded in 1989. And it's impossible to isolate Chesapeake's success from Aubrey K. McClendon.
McClendon last year gave up his role as chairman and now will leave as chief executive officer as well, staying only as long as it takes to find a successor. The financial community reacted favorably to the news as a continuing sign that Chesapeake's house is being put in order. It's sad, nevertheless, to see a company's co-founder sever ties with one of Oklahoma's most valuable, most generous and most visible corporations.
Employees were assured Tuesday by Archie W. Dunham, who succeeded McClendon as chairman, that the company is not for sale. “The board and management believe strongly in the culture of excellence at Chesapeake and are committed to seeing this culture thrive in the future,” Dunham said.
Culture of excellence. That's a keen turn of phrase. A culture that developed around McClendon and partly because of McClendon must now continue without McClendon. At only 53, he's bound to have other ventures ahead of him. The ones in his past will be remembered for the highs and lows as well as the ongoing contribution of Chesapeake's 12,000 employees and the corporation as a whole, in giving so much back to the community.
Millions of dollars a year have flowed from these employees and the company — to feed the poor, to improve the arts, to enhance the quality of life in Oklahoma City. McClendon set the example for this. In his personal life, apart from Chesapeake, he created POPS in Arcadia. Unlike other roadside attractions on Route 66 throughout the years, POPS isn't a stopover. It's a destination.
Those who would make light of Chesapeake's downturn in the past year or relish McClendon's diminished role should consider adding a measure of balance to their thinking. Successful people like McClendon who build successful companies such as Chesapeake — he and Tom Ward started the company with $50,000 — don't just help themselves and their shareholders. They help the less successful to stay fed, stay clothed, stay educated and stay informed.
In the end, though, public companies such as Chesapeake are controlled by shareholders and regulators who require a measure of performance and compliance that isn't focused on charitable giving but on financial success. It's in everyone's best interest for Chesapeake to succeed as a well-managed company positioned for growth. The structural changes of the past year are good for the company, employees and the community.
They may not have been the best thing for McClendon himself, but he moves into the next phase of his career with the drive, determination and know-how to build something else from humble beginnings. We salute him for what he's done. We hope any mistakes he made will be instructive for his future.
Most of all, we salute Chesapeake's employees. They should view this as an exciting time, with equal measures of opportunity and challenge, in which to build on a culture of excellence that McClendon started fashioning a quarter century ago.