During a farewell speech to employees on Thursday, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon choked back tears at times and recalled how he came across the company's first handwritten, five-page business plan while cleaning out his office and that he once had to borrow money from his father to make payroll.
It was an uncharacteristically somber McClendon who took to a stage set up on one of Chesapeake's immaculate athletic fields on Thursday during a farewell picnic that featured piped-in classic rock songs and box lunches.
McClendon reassured employees that Chesapeake has a solid leadership team in place, although the company has yet to name McClendon's successor.
“They are not going away,” McClendon said. “I'm leaving, but they are staying — you have a very strong leadership team here and I hope you have the inner drive to continue with what we have started here.”
Chesapeake employees wore T-shirts to the farewell party printed with an illustration of McClendon's signature tie — pattered with drilling rigs and hard hats.
The shirts were also emblazoned with the phrase “onward and upward,” McClendon's signature sign-off to Chesapeake workers.
The oil and gas industry was a staid place when McClendon and Tom Ward founded the company in 1989 from a suburban brick office building at NW 63 and Western Avenue, he said during his speech.
“It was a bunch of old guys — like I am today,” McClendon, 53, said. “It was not a particularly dynamic or creative place — companies were not built to challenge the status quo.”