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Will Chesapeake, SandRidge leadership changes affect community involvement?

The CEOs at Chesapeake Energy Corp. and SandRidge Energy Inc. have created thousands of local, high-paying jobs, spent millions on local charities and community efforts, and helped bring in and support the Oklahoma City Thunder.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: March 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm •  Published: March 25, 2013

Oklahoma City businessmen Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward each have a reputation of spending big, betting high and supporting Oklahoma City.

The CEOs at Chesapeake Energy Corp. and SandRidge Energy Inc. have created thousands of local, high-paying jobs, spent millions on local charities and community efforts, and helped bring in and support the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Chesapeake and McClendon have developed restaurants and shopping centers around the company's north Oklahoma City headquarters, including Classen Curve, Classen Triangle and Nichols Hills Plaza.

SandRidge and Ward have transformed part of downtown into SandRidge Commons, which includes park space and public restaurants.

Both companies also have sponsored buildings and events along the Oklahoma River, including the Chesapeake Finish Line Tower, the SandRidge Sky Trail and the SandRidge Cup Championships.

Both men also have drawn intense opposition in recent months from shareholders who have accused them and their corporate directors — among other things — of wasteful spending and not focusing enough on the companies' core businesses.

New priorities?

Dissident shareholders have taken control of Chesapeake's board and are poised to do the same at SandRidge.

Chesapeake CEO and co-founder McClendon is set to leave his company April 1.

SandRidge's newly expanded board is conducting an internal review over whether to keep Ward, who co-founded Chesapeake with McClendon. If the SandRidge directors do not oust Ward by June 30, the board will reorganize, giving the dissident shareholders even more control.

Both dissident shareholder groups have called on the companies to reduce their nonoperational spending.

Chesapeake said in January that it has cut its annual budget for charitable, trade association and political expenses by about 30 percent in 2013, 40 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2015.

“We know our success is a direct result of the strength, goodwill and vitality of Oklahoma City and all the communities where we operate,” Chesapeake spokesman Michael Kehs said Friday. “Our support of local communities and organizations goes well beyond financial contributions and includes volunteer hours, mentoring, public education efforts, employee contributions and in-kind donations. Our commitment to being a helpful and engaged corporate citizen will continue.”

A SandRidge spokesman did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

SandRidge shareholder TPG-Axon has called for the company to reduce overhead spending by as much as 75 percent. Besides salaries and bonuses, TPG-Axon also cited SandRidge's spending on planes, buildings, advertising and luxury suites.

In an open letter to SandRidge employees earlier this month, however, the shareholder group clarified its stance, stating that “much of the overhead expenses we object to has nothing to do with community support, but rather are enormous expenses directed toward the vanity, privilege and compensation of a few.”

Supporting the city

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams on Friday praised both McClendon and Ward for their focus on the community.

“The leaders of both companies, Aubrey and Tom, were key to getting the Thunder here. The companies have been supportive of not only that component of the community, but also the other charitable and civic causes both through their own involvement and encouraging their employees' involvement,” Williams said. “They've been leaders in tutoring and mentoring and volunteering. There's been a culture that has developed from both companies that has stemmed from the leaders about the importance of community.”

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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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