Aubrey Mcclen­don, the co-founder of Ch­e­sa­peake En­ergy, liked to sneak Cham­pagne into movie the­aters on date nights with his wife. They’d pour it over cups of ice they bought at the con­ces­sion stand and sip away in the dark. At the height of a gas boom he

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and wore ties dec­o­rated with minia­ture drilling rigs. He drove his cars fast and talked on his phone while ca­reen­ing through the back roads of Ok­la­homa, fol­low­ing old at­lases. As Mcclen­don’s son, Will, put it at his me­mo­rial in Ok­la­homa City on March 7: “He was def­i­nitely not a Google Maps kind of guy.”

Mcclen­don was smart, shrewd, vi­sion­ary, and dogged— and he had trou­ble fol­low­ing rules. On oc­ca­sion, when a gam­ble on a new gas field worked out, that helped him. But just as of­ten, it hurt. His con­trar­ian push into shale drilling rev­o­lu­tion­ized the global en­ergy busi­ness and made him a bil­lion­aire. His dis­dain for con­ven­tion at­tracted reg­u­la­tory scru­tiny, an­gered share­hold­ers, and cost him his job run­ning the com­pany he built.

When Ch­e­sa­peake’s board ousted him as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer in 2013 af­ter a se­ries of con­flict-of-in­ter­est al­le­ga­tions and a huge wrong-way bet on nat­u­ral gas prices, he vowed to start a new com­pany that would be as bold as his old one. One of his last moves upon de­part­ing his Ch­e­sa­peake of­fice was to take a set of com­pany ge­o­log­i­cal maps to nat­u­ral gas de­posits. On March 1, the day be­fore Mcclen­don died, fed­eral an­titrust au­thor­i­ties ac­cused him of con­spir­ing with a com­peti­tor to rig bids in drilling-lease auc­tions.

Mcclen­don came to em­body both the free-spir­ited wild­cat­ter and the en­ti­tled CEO of the 21st cen­tury who en­riched him­self while treat­ing the pub­lic com­pany he ran as his per­sonal king­dom. “No in­di­vid­ual is with­out flaws, but his im­pact on Amer­i­can en­ergy will be long-last­ing,” says T. Boone Pick­ens, chair­man of BP Cap­i­tal. “He was a ma­jor player in lead­ing the stun­ning en­ergy re­nais­sance in Amer­ica. He was charis­matic and a true Amer­i­can en­tre­pre­neur.”

Mcclen­don rose and fell many times in his three-decade ca­reer. In the weeks pre­ced­ing his March 2 death in a one-car crash in his home­town of Ok­la­homa City, he was los­ing con­trol of sev­eral new com­pa­nies he helped cre­ate. But he was still out wran­gling deals to drill shale in Aus­tralia and Ar­gentina.

Marc Row­land, Ch­e­sa­peake’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer from 1993 to 2010, says that when he spoke re­cently with his friend, “I didn’t de­tect any­thing dif­fer­ent than what I’d call the usual, which was high en­ergy, op­ti­mism. We talked about the in­dus­try and how dif­fi­cult it was to get some of th­ese pro­grams put to­gether, but it was al­ways in the vein of ‘ad­ver­sity has al­ways cre­ated op­por­tu­nity for us.’ ”

Mcclen­don, who was 56, shrugged off char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of him­self as a risk-lov­ing wild­cat­ter. “If I wanted to al­ways do the most pop­u­lar thing, then I’d be a fol­lower,” he told Bloomberg Mar­kets mag­a­zine in 2012. “The funny thing is that I don’t con­sider my­self a gam­bler at all. A gam­bler is some­body who just closes their eyes and rolls the dice. We don’t do that.”

He didn’t be­have as if he was strug­gling, even when his busi­ness was. He col­lected an­tique speed­boats, in­clud­ing a 1954 Greavette and a 1938 Hacker-craft. He had an ex­ten­sive wine col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing dozens of vin­tages of Chateau Lafite Roth­schild. He left his mark across Ok­la­homa City, from the Ch­e­sa­peake Boathouse to the high- end Classen Curve shop­ping cen­ter he helped de­velop near Ch­e­sa­peake’s of­fices to keep young em­ploy­ees from flee­ing to Hous­ton.

Mcclen­don took spe­cial pride in Ch­e­sa­peake’s red-brick head­quar­ters, which he de­signed to re­sem­ble a col­lege cam­pus, with yoga classes, a bas­ket­ball court, and free mas­sages. It re­flected his de­sire to make Ch­e­sa­peake look more like a Sil­i­con Val­ley startup than an old-line Okie driller. On a slow night at Irma’s Burger Shack a few blocks away, he’d leave $100 tips for each em­ployee. He and Katie, his wife of more than 30 years, gave tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to their alma mater, Duke Univer­sity. Mcclen­don brought a sim­i­lar phi­los­o­phy to Ch­e­sa­peake, where cash wasn’t to be con­served but plowed into buy­ing more land and drilling new wells. “Ask­ing me what to do with ex­tra cash is like ask­ing a fra­ter­nity boy what to do with the beer,” Mcclen­don told Nat­u­ral Gas In­tel­li­gence in 2005.

Un­like many en­ergy CEOS, Mcclen­don had no spe­cial tal­ent for ge­ol­ogy or en­gi­neer­ing. Rather, he brought a flair for mak­ing deals. He was a “land man,” one of the guys who— not un­like door-to- door sales­men—ne­go­ti­ate drilling leases with farm­ers and ranch­ers. He be­came the pre­em­i­nent land man of his era, at one point amass­ing rights to the largest U.S. shale hold­ing—16 mil­lion acres, an area equiv­a­lent to half the state of New York.

Along with a few other pi­o­neers, Mcclen­don showed that pre­vi­ously im­per­me­able shelves of rock miles un­der­ground could be shat­tered and made to yield their riches. Even af­ter the ouster from Ch­e­sa­peake and the fi­nan­cial strug­gles of his newer ven­tures, Mcclen­don looked like he might sur­vive the up-and-down yet again—if only en­ergy prices would co­op­er­ate.

With his rim­less glasses and sil­ver hair curl­ing over his col­lar, Mcclen­don could have passed for a col­lege pro­fes­sor. Grow­ing up in Ok­la­homa, he had prospect­ing in his blood. His great un­cle was Robert Kerr, the one­time Ok­la­homa gov­er­nor and U. S. sen­a­tor who co-founded en­ergy gi­ant Kerr-mcgee. He grad­u­ated from Duke in 1981 with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in his­tory and a fond­ness for Bruce Spring­steen.

He started Ch­e­sa­peake in 1989 with his friend Tom Ward. With a $50,000 stake, the two 29-year- olds be­gan leas­ing scraps of Ok­la­homa land left be­hind by big­ger play­ers. They named it Ch­e­sa­peake partly be­cause, as Mcclen­don told the

Ok­la­homan in 2002, “There was some fear that we’d fail, maybe spec­tac­u­larly, and we thought it would be eas­ier to live with that if our names weren’t on the failed en­ter­prise.”

Row­land says he sensed some­thing spe­cial in Mcclen­don the first time he met him in the early 1980s. “He was pow­er­fully in­quis­i­tive,” Row­land says. “If you were hav­ing a cup of coffee, you could ex­pect to get 40 ques­tions about your­self and ev­ery­thing go­ing on in your life.” Row­land joined Ch­e­sa­peake in 1993, the year the com­pany went pub­lic at $1.33 a share. At the time, Row­land says, oil- and- gas was sup­pos­edly “a dy­ing busi­ness, where all of our re­sources had been ex­hausted. It was the era of Peak Oil and Aubrey didn’t see it that way.”

Mcclen­don and Ward were among the first “frack­ers” of un­con­ven­tional nat­u­ral gas reser­voirs, lay­ers of rock rich with hy­dro­car­bons that had largely been ig­nored be­cause they were too dense for gas and oil to flow through. Ch­e­sa­peake bored side­ways into the for­ma­tions, broke them up with ex­plo­sives, then pumped in wa­ter and sand to prop open the cracks so gas had room to flow out. Frack­ing, short for hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, is blamed by some for poi­son­ing drink­ing wa­ter, pol­lut­ing the air, and trig­ger­ing earth­quakes. It’s also cred­ited with re­duc­ing U.S. de­pen­dence on for­eign oil.

Ch­e­sa­peake was also early to adopt the use of high-yield debt to un­der­write its drilling ad­ven­tures. To Mcclen­don, debt was not a bur­den but one of his most valu­able tools. “To be able to bor­row money for 10 years and ride out boom-and­bust cy­cles was al­most as im­por­tant an in­sight as hor­i­zon­tal drilling,” Mcclen­don told Rolling Stone mag­a­zine in 2012. “If some­thing didn’t work for a lit­tle bit of time, we could re­group and find some­thing that did work.”

The ride was bumpy. By late 1996, Ch­e­sa­peake shares had climbed above $30 as the com­pany’s earn­ings soared and its gas re­serves swelled. Within a year, though, the stock had dropped below $10 af­ter the Austin Chalk, a key Ch­e­sa­peake field strad­dling the Texas- Louisiana bor­der, fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions, forc­ing the com­pany to take a siz­able write­down.

“We’d had higher highs than oth­ers in the in­dus­try; then we had lower lows,” Mcclen­don said in 2011. “In this busi­ness, it’s good to have a short mem­ory and thick skin.” He and Ward tried to sell Ch­e­sa­peake in 1998 but in­ter­est was scant. Be­liev­ing that shale would even­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence a huge growth surge, they put their land-men hats on and be­gan bor­row­ing money to buy fresh drilling acreage. Be­tween 2000 and 2006, Ch­e­sa­peake spent $6 bil­lion on 11 mil­lion acres of drilling rights in about a dozen states. A debt load that was un­der $1 bil­lion in 2000 bal­looned to al­most $13 bil­lion by 2010, ex­ceed­ing the com­bined net debt of in­ter­na­tional

No mat­ter who his guests were, if Mcclen­don saw new restau­rant em­ploy­ees, he al­ways stopped to ask about their life sto­ries and am­bi­tions, Fleis­chfresser says. “In the hos­pi­tal­ity world, we judge peo­ple on how they treat waiters and staff. In that re­spect alone, Aubrey was a king.”

Dur­ing a Christ­mas bliz­zard in 2009, a priest at Mcclen­don’s Epis­co­pal church e-mailed him to see if any Ch­e­sa­peake ground crews could help clear church side­walks, says Steve Slaw­son, vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions for Slaw­son Ex­plo­ration and a long­time friend of Mcclen­don’s. Half an hour later, the priest looked out­side to see Mcclen­don and his two sons shov­el­ing. “Aubrey was reck­lessly gen­er­ous,” Slaw­son says. “It will take a lot of us chip­ping in to fill that hole.”

Mcclen­don threw his time and money into an ef­fort to turn a grassy stretch near the Ok­la­homa River in down­town Ok­la­homa City into a world- class Olympic row­ing venue. A new wa­ter­way was built that be­came home to the Ch­e­sa­peake Boathouse in 2006. “While he wasn’t a rower, he liked the wa­ter and un­der­stood the power of what an ac­tive wa­ter­front could be for the city,” says Michael Knopp, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ok­la­homa City Boathouse District. “He and I would e-mail back and forth in the middle of the night.”

Mcclen­don also bought homes in Ber­muda, Hawaii, Colorado, and Min­nesota, ac­cord­ing to a Reuters re­port in 2012, along with 16 an­tique boats worth $9 mil­lion. He be­came po­lit­i­cally ac­tive, help­ing bankroll the Swift Boat ad cam­paign against Demo­crat John Kerry in the 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. He bought a share of the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion’s Seat­tle Su­per­son­ics and earned the en­mity of its fans by help­ing move the team to Ok­la­homa City, where it went to the 2012 NBA Fi­nals play­ing as the Thun­der.

As Ch­e­sa­peake and other shale drillers pur­sued frack­ing more ag­gres­sively in the North­east and Up­per Mid­west, protests grew louder and more pointed. Cit­i­zens and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists warned that chem­i­cals used in frack­ing could leach into ground­wa­ter. There were re­ports of foul smells em­a­nat­ing from kitchen faucets in towns near frack­ing sites. One of Mcclen­don’s stock re­sponses to the crit­i­cism was to de­scribe the de­trac­tors’ “vi­sion of the fu­ture” as, “We’re cold, it’s dark, we’re hun­gry.”

He car­ried this same cer­tainty— some might say ar­ro­gance— to the man­age­ment of Ch­e­sa­peake, a pub­lic com­pany with 13,000 em­ploy­ees. The com­pany of­ten out­spent its fore­casts as it ac­cu­mu­lated acreage in new prospects hand­picked by Mcclen­don. Ex­ec­u­tives who wanted to in­vest in a new pro­ject pitched their ideas in­di­vid­u­ally, and of­ten pri­vately, to Mcclen­don, who ex­er­cised sole power of ap­proval. He also per­son­ally screened an­nual em­ployee bonuses, us­ing a red

would have a cold win­ter, he closed out hedges that would have locked in high gas prices. The win­ter turned out to be mild and gas prices col­lapsed. On April 1, 2013, Mcclen­don left the com­pany.

Af­ter Ch­e­sa­peake’s board voted to re­place him, Mcclen­don en­joyed an out­pour­ing of sym­pa­thy in the com­pany’s home­town. Al­most all of the dozens of reader com­ments sub­mit­ted to the Ok­la­homan were pos­i­tive. Mcclen­don “was a man with a vi­sion for his com­pany, his com­mu­nity, his city and his state,” one reader wrote. “So he made a lot of money for him­self. Why should he not?”

The day af­ter he left Ch­e­sa­peake in dis­grace, Mcclen­don started a new com­pany, Amer­i­can En­ergy Part­ners. He hired 600 em­ploy­ees, raised more than $10 bil­lion in equity and debt, and re­launched his mis­sion to drill. In­vestors hadn’t lost faith in Mcclen­don. Among those who piled bil­lions into Amer­i­can En­ergy were KKR, First Re­serve, and En­ergy & Min­er­als Group, the Dal­las firm con­trolled by John Ray­mond, son of for­mer Exxon CEO Lee Ray­mond.

Mcclen­don had been in the job about a year when Michi­gan’s at­tor­ney gen­eral sued Ch­e­sa­peake and En­cana over al­leged col­lu­sion. Part of the ev­i­dence cited in the charges was an e- mail Mcclen­don sent to an En­cana ex­ec­u­tive: “should we throw in 50/50 to­gether here rather than try­ing to bash each other’s brains out on lease buy­ing?” En­cana paid $5 mil­lion to set­tle the case, and Ch­e­sa­peake agreed to pay $25 mil­lion in penal­ties.

The oil crash started in the sum­mer of 2014. Lenders even­tu­ally shut off the spigot of easy money to all drillers. Late that year, Mcclen­don was qui­etly shoved aside as CEO of an Ohio shale ven­ture he’d formed with sup­port from John Ray­mond and other in­vestors, Amer­i­can En­ergy-utica. The shake-up wasn’t pub­licly an­nounced un­til five months later and was never ex­plained.

Pres­sure mounted in Fe­bru­ary 2015, when Ch­e­sa­peake al­leged in a law­suit that Mcclen­don had taken maps to Ohio gas de­posits with him when he left the com­pany. Mcclen­don in­sisted he had a right to the maps. The law­suit de­manded hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in dam­ages and also sought to pe­nal­ize any­one who funded Mcclen­don’s new projects. Mcclen­don vowed to fight the ac­cu­sa­tions.

He con­tin­ued strik­ing deals where he could find them, no­tably to drill shale in Aus­tralia and Ar­gentina. But his com­pany, Amer­i­can En­ergy, was strug­gling un­der heavy debt, still-low gas prices, and grow­ing in­vestor con­cern about his le­gal bat­tle with Ch­e­sa­peake. By the time of his in­dict­ment, Mcclen­don had been re­moved from all lead­er­ship po­si­tions at Amer­i­can En­ergy, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with

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