CEO Gaffe of the Week: Chesapeake Energy

Last year, I introduced a weekly series called "CEO Gaffe of the Week." Having come across more than a handful of questionable executive decisions when compiling my list of the worst CEOs of 2011, I thought it could be a learning experience for all of us if I pointed out apparent gaffes as they occur. Trusting your investments begins with trusting the leadership at the top -- and with leaders like these on your side, sometimes you don't need enemies!

This week, I'm going to hopefully turn your attention to CEO Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK  ) for the final time.

The dunce cap
I know what you're thinking: "Didn't you just tell us two days ago about how ecstatic you are that Aubrey McClendon is retiring in two months?" The answer is yes, and I'm still incredibly ecstatic because I feel it will give Chesapeake a renewed focus on its operations. There are, however, two unforgivable wags of my finger that come with McClendon's retirement announcement and are the premise for this week's CEO gaffe honor.

First, what took so long???!!!

It's not as if McClendon had one particular instance during his tenure where investors questioned whether his corporate governance was in the best interests of shareholders. There were quite a few instances that painted McClendon in bad light and he should have been removed from a leadership position months, if not years, ago.

As noted by Reuters, McClendon's personal borrowings from EIG Energy Partners, a one-time financier for Chesapeake, could have created the potential for a conflict of interest between EIG and shareholders. No evidence of this has emerged, but it nonetheless was a poor position for McClendon to put himself in.

A second scenario, also brought to light by Reuters, highlights that McClendon ran a $200 million commodities hedge fund between 2004 and 2008, trading the same products that Chesapeake drills for. While no wrongdoing has been shown here, either, I clearly have to wonder if McClendon's focus was on improving Chesapeake or running his hedge fund. 

McClendon relinquished his title of chairman last June and should have stepped down then. Instead, his sideshow has remained a constant negative on Chesapeake's share price.

To the corner, Mr. McClendon
But wait – there's more!

The second point I'm going to blame on both the Chesapeake board as well as McClendon: his potential severance package.

Now, keep in mind that no figures have been set in stone, but according to Chesapeake's 2012 proxy and as highlighted by Oklahoman newspaper, NewsOk, McClendon stands in line to receive possibly more than $50 million in severance pay, accelerated equity compensation, and other benefits. The reason for the huge payout, as NewsOk lists, is because "his departure is being treated as a termination without cause." Even with McClendon all but out the door, he and the board still may manage to slap investors across the face once more with a ridiculous golden parachute.

Some positives have been brought to light in recent months as I highlighted on Wednesday. The sale of Chesapeake's Permian Basin assets to Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , Royal Dutch Shell  (NYSE: RDS-B  ) , and EnerVest, for $3.3 billion symbiotically moved Chesapeake closer to securing the funding needed to operate through 2013 and granted Chevron and Shell access to land that produced 21,000 barrel of oil-equivalent liquids in the second-quarter of 2012 at a very reasonable price.

Perhaps this is the year we see Chesapeake turn its focus away from the sideshow that was Aubrey McClendon and focus on improving shareholder value. Unfortunately we still have to wait until April Fool's Day until we can rejoice. Two more months folks... two more months!

Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this dubious honor? Shoot me an email and a one- or two-sentence description of why your choice deserves next week's nomination, and you just may see your suggestion in the spotlight.

Where does Chesapeake go after McClendon leaves? Find out now!
Energy investors would be hard-pressed to find another company trading at a deeper discount than Chesapeake Energy. Its share price depreciated after negative news surfaced concerning the company's management and spiraling debt picture. While these issues still persist, giant steps have been taken to help mitigate the problems. To learn more about Chesapeake and its enormous potential, you're invited to check out The Motley Fool's brand new premium report on the company. Simply click here now to access your copy, and as an added bonus, you'll receive a full year of key updates and expert guidance as news continues to develop.


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