On March 2, Aubrey McClendon—founder and CEO of American Energy Partners, and co-founder, CEO, and chairman of Chesapeake Energy—died in a fiery one-person car crash, where it appears he deliberately drove his vehicle into a concrete barrier around a highway overpass. This car accident occurred the day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring with an unnamed company to rig the price of oil and gas leases in the state of Oklahoma. The allegations further specified that McClendon orchestrated a campaign to keep bid prices down from 2007 to 2012, while he was chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp. amid a land-leasing boom for drilling rights across the United States.
McClendon had previously had his share of trouble when it was revealed in 2012 that he had engaged in at least two major conflict of interest scams against the very company he not only founded but ran as CEO and chairman of the goard. The first conflict of interest revolved around some $1 billion in loans McClendon obtained from investment firms that did business with Chesapeake and were secured by his stake in Chesapeake’s oil and gas wells. McClendon used the loans to finance more personal stakes in the company’s wells. It goes without saying, these loans were not disclosed to company shareholders.
If this conflict was not bad enough, it later was disclosed that from 2004 through 2008, McClendon ran a $200 million hedge fund inside the company itself and for his own benefit; trading in the very same commodities that Chesapeake produced. As CEO and chairman, think there was any inside information going on inside his head? McClendon was forced to cede both rolls as he was ousted from the company he had formed in 1989.
McClendon’s sorry tale makes clear yet again that it all really does start at the top; whether that be a culture of doing business ethically and in compliance with the laws, mandating that employees operate safely to avoid workplace accidents or simply put the company’s interest before self-interests. McClendon never seemed to understand that Chesapeake was not his company but it was owned by the shareholders and his first duty was to protect their interests.
Whenever news comes out that the company CEO has obtained loans from those doing business with the company, I have only one word of advice—run.