The Rise And Shocking Fall Of Energy Titan Aubrey McClendon

aubrey mcclendon

Photo: Foundation OKCPS

Aubrey McClendon is out as CEO of Chesapeake Energy after turning a company he founded from scratch 30 years ago into the country’s second-largest natural gas producer.What happened? 

The short answer is the low natural gas prices destroyed the company’s earnings.

The longer answer is that even before the natural gas glut, McClendon had loaded the company with debt at levels  analysts believed unsustainable

Then last year, Reuters’ investigative reporters Anna Driver and Brian Grow said McClendon was borrowing massive loans from a company that also lends to Chesapeake, and using personal stakes in well profits as collateral.

We wanted to take a look at the undeniably fabulous life McClendon built for himself, and now must leave behind.

Aubrey Kerr McClendon was born in 1959 in Oklahoma City.

He came from a prominent Oklahoma family. His great uncle Robert Kerr was the state's twelfth governor.


McClendon was voted senior class president and was valedictorian of the Heritage Hall school in Oklahoma CIty.

He went on to attend Duke. There is now a dorm there named after his family.

Source: Duke Today

It's there he met Kathleen Upton Byrns. They married in 1981.

You may be familiar with Kathleen's cousin.

Kathleen's relatives also founded Whirlpool.

Anyway, the couple moved back to Oklahoma, where McClendon got a job working for his uncle as a landman.

But he ended up striking out on his own as a wildcatter, founding Chesapeake in 1983.

They'd buy a patches of land not yet on the radars of oil giants...

And if they struck oil or gas, sell it for a huge margin.

They went public in 1993.

In the meantime, McClendon lived a fairly opulent life. He became an unrepentant oenophile, once proposing Forbes' Chris Helman and he split a $10,000 bottle of Lafite Rothschild.

Source: Forbes

He built up a collection of vintage Texas and Oklahoma maps are worth $12 million.

Source: Forbes

He owned a rest stop in Oklahoma with a 4 ton, 80-foot-tall bottle and 12,000 antique sodas.

Source: Route 66 News

And he's also part of the ownership group that brought the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City.

Source: Forbes

By 2008, he was topping Associated Press's list of best-paid CEOs for 2008, with a pay package worth 112.5 million, including a $75 million bonus.

That was about as good as it was going to get. That fall, McClendon had to sell more than $1 billion of his own stock to meet margin calls.

Source: StreetInsider

From its height of nearly $70 in the summer of 2008, the stock would collapse -75% over the next six months.

Much of the decline was attributable to collapsing gas prices.

But instead of attempting to sell assets raise cash, McClendon decided to borrow heavily from Wall Street.

Then last year, Reuters revealed a potential conflict of interest in McClendon's compensation arrangement. McClendon was forced to step down as chairman of Chesapeake's board.

Activist investor Carl Icahn, who'd previously invested in the firm, jumped back into the company and got a lieutenant appointed to the board.

Finally, the Reuters investigations prompted SEC and Justice Department probes.

Even for an energy titan, that kind of scrutiny is difficult to survive.

On January 29, 2013, Chesapeake announced McClendon would be stepping down as CEO.

Icahn praised McClendon's tenure but warned the company would have to sell off assets to balance its books.

According to CNBC's David Faber, the decision to step down was not McClendon's.

For another incredible CEO story, from another part of the world...

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