Tom Ward is out as SandRidge's CEO

SandRidge Energy Inc. fired CEO Tom Ward on Wednesday and named James Bennett as CEO. Ward was terminated “without cause,” which entitles him to more than $90 million in cash and SandRidge stock. He would have received nothing if the board had found cause to fire him.
by Jay F. Marks and Adam Wilmoth Modified: June 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm •  Published: June 19, 2013

The shareholder revolt at SandRidge Energy Inc. may finally be over.

The Oklahoma City oil company's board opted to move forward Wednesday with new leadership, replacing Tom Ward as chairman and chief executive.

“As we begin a new chapter in the company's history, we are focused on keeping our talented team motivated, enhancing our communications, and delivering on expectations by efficiently executing on our assets,” said James Bennett, the company's new CEO. “We are confident this will result in value creation for all stakeholders, including our stockholders, employees and the communities in which we operate.”

Bennett, who joined SandRidge in 2010 from private equity fund White Deer Energy, was promoted to president in March. He had been executive vice president and chief financial officer since January 2011.

Director Jeffrey Serota, a senior partner with a Los Angeles-based investment firm, was designated as interim chairman. He has been on the board since March 2007.

The announcement came after the market closed Wednesday, with SandRidge's stock up 11 cents to $5.08 a share. It rose another 26 cents in after-hours trading.

“I think it's probably a better day tomorrow for shareholders than it was with Ward at the helm,” Morningstar analyst Mark Hanson said Wednesday.

Hanson said Ward's ouster was “probably a foregone conclusion” once the company opted to settle a proxy fight with one of its largest shareholders in March.

He expects SandRidge's “changing of the guard” to benefit the company, with its new board and CEO more accountable to shareholders.

Hanson said Bennett seems like a talented successor to Ward, “based on his resume” with a background in private investment and deal-making.

Change sought

Ward has been under fire since late last year, when two of SandRidge's largest shareholders began clamoring for a change in leadership to boost the company's value.

Hedge fund TPG-Axon Capital launched a proxy fight in December, urging fellow shareholders to replace the company's board with its own slate of directors.

A settlement was announced March 13 before any votes were tabulated. It added four seats to SandRidge's board for TPG-Axon representatives, who would have gotten a greater representation if Ward had not been fired by June 30.

TPG-Axon accused Ward of improperly benefiting from related-party transactions with companies owned by his relatives, but a four-month investigation by an independent law firm did not unearth any evidence that warranted Ward's termination, the company said Wednesday.

The board's nonemployee members, all but Ward, concluded new leadership was desirable.

“The board felt it was critical to have a leader who understands both the industry and how to increase shareholder value, and we were fortunate to have the ideal leader already on our team,” Serota said.

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by Jay F. Marks
Energy Reporter
Jay F. Marks has been covering Oklahoma news since graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1996. He worked in Sulphur and Enid before joining The Oklahoman in 2005. Marks has been covering the energy industry since 2009.
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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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