Anadarko Petroleum Corp. executive Robert Douglas Lawler, 46, was tapped Monday to helm Chesapeake Energy Corp., bringing with him a wealth of exploration and production (E&P) experience when he takes over as CEO on June 17.
Lawler, now a member of Anadarko’s executive committee and board, was promoted last July to helm their International and Deepwater operations, which includes directing new and existing developments, including a multi-train liquefied natural gas project in Mozambique. He previously was in charge of Anadarko’s Southern and Appalachian businesses, which include operations in the Marcellus, Haynesville and Eagle Ford shales, the Permian Basin’s Bone Spring/Avalon plays, and in the Rocky Mountains’ Greater Wattenberg Field and Denver-Julesburg Basin. Lawler also has served as vice president of Anadarko’s corporate planning.
Nearly all of Anadarko’s drilling today is in the U.S. onshore, where 42 operated rigs were working in the Lower 48 states in 1Q2013, the same level as at the end of 2012.
A petroleum engineer by trade, the Colorado School of Mines graduate began his career with Kerr-McGee Corp., which Anadarko acquired in 2006. He also holds a masters degree in business administration from Rice University. Lawler, who will relocate from The Woodlands, near Houston, to Oklahoma City, said he saw “significant value in Chesapeake’s asset base, and the growth potential of the company is tremendous.”
Chesapeake’s share price rose about 2.76% (56 cents) on the news to end Monday at $20.83.
Lawler has an “ideal skill set” to lead Chesapeake, said nonexecutive Chairman Archie Dunham. “Throughout his 25 years in the upstream E&P industry, Doug has earned a reputation as a highly engaged and knowledgeable leader who delivers superior operational performance and capital efficiency. The board is confident that Doug’s deep technical upstream and engineering expertise, as well as his strategic and financial skills, will serve Chesapeake well.”
Since former CEO Aubrey McClendon retired in April, Chesapeake has been run by an Office of the Chairman, which included Dunham, COO and interim CEO Steve Dixon, and CFO Nick Del’Osso. The office will be disbanded once Lawler is aboard, and the executives will return to their former roles.
“The company did not miss a beat during this interim period, and their effective collaboration reflects their strong leadership skills and teamwork ethic,” said Dunham. “Steve, Nick, and the rest of the executive group, under Doug’s leadership, will form a highly talented and experienced management team that will lead Chesapeake into its next phase of success and prosperity.”
Energy analysts are hopeful that Lawler will bring stability to the cash-strapped, but asset-rich, company. Chesapeake is the second largest U.S. gas producer, trailing only ExxonMobil Corp., but it carries about $13.5 billion in debt, little changed over the past two years even after pledges by management to reduce it by 25%.
Lawler is not a well-known industry player, however, Anadarko has a “good reputation with the Street,” and his obvious success in the U.S. onshore during his tenure is a “positive” for Chesapeake, said RBC Capital’s Scott Hanold.
Lawler “is coming into a company that has serious challenges…It’s a minefield that he has to navigate through, but he’s very experienced, and I feel he will live up to the challenge,” said Oppenheimer’s Fadel Gheit.
“We’re hopeful that Doug will improve capital discipline and allocation decisions,” a “core strength” for Anadarko, noted Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. “That said, we believe there is a substantial wall to climb, given the balance sheet leverage and need to materially sell assets into a weak asset and divestiture market.”
Wells Fargo analysts said the first read-through on the news “might raise some question marks, given Mr. Lawler’s current focus on international and deepwater (Chesapeake has neither), but Mr. Lawler has a diverse management background, which includes a tour managing Anadarko’s domestic Southern and Appalachia operations (including the Eagle Ford when it first started to ramp as well as the Marcellus).
“We think the hire should be well received by the market as Mr. Lawler is a well-respected, rising executive from a highly respected U.S. E&P, but also because the hire should begin to turn the page on the Aubrey McClendon saga that has consumed the story for the past year.”
Lawler “is tasked with driving growth for Chesapeake and demonstrating the value of the company’s major asset base,” said Wells Fargo’s team. “Bottom line is we believe this is a good hire…For Anadarko, the loss of Mr. Lawler is sure to sting, but we believe the company has a very deep bench of executives who are highly capable of stepping in to fill the void.”
Meanwhile, McClendon will continue to be part of Chesapeake’s business, if only as an investor. Under a contract, he is entitled to participate in all wells the company develops through mid-2014 and he may earn up to 2.5% in the well proceeds. In addition, McClendon has the right to buy property adjacent to Chesapeake holdings, as long as the company is given an option to meet the same terms in any purchase agreement (see Daily GPI, April 17).
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