OLD Media Moves

Covering Chesapeake — a good story no matter the angle

January 8, 2013

Posted by Liz Hester

Chesapeake Energy came out with a couple of pieces of news on Monday, and depending on which publication you read, the importance of these was flipped. Nearly all the major news outlets led with the fact the CEO didn’t get a bonus.

For example, Bloomberg Businessweek’s opening graphs:

Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (CHK) board withheld a bonus from Chief Executive Officer Aubrey McClendon last year and further restricted executive compensation amid investor criticism of the company’s performance and management.

Incentive compensation for 2012 was “substantially” reduced along with perquisites for executives officers, according to a filing from the Oklahoma City-based company today. The board is developing annual and long-term incentive compensation programs this year that tie pay to performance.

Chesapeake also will introduce proposals at this year’s annual meeting to change voting standards to strengthen shareholders’ influence. The company said it will continue to seek a change in Oklahoma law to allow investors to vote on the entire board in 2013.

But the Wall Street Journal thought the new voting rights for shareholders was more important:

Chesapeake Energy Corp., a major natural-gas producer, said it would give shareholders the right to nominate some directors—a key governance concession—while slashing charitable and political spending and cutting overhead costs.

Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s co-founder and chief executive, will get no bonus for 2012, on his own recommendation, and a perk granting him personal use of corporate aircraft will be limited, the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Investors have been pressing for changes at the company, which has been criticized for heavy spending and extravagant compensation for executives and directors. Its shares dropped 25% last year as it racked up debt, weathered a liquidity crisis and came under scrutiny for Mr. McClendon’s financial dealings.

The Reuters story put the new director approval provision in the last paragraph, choosing to highlight the CEO’s troubles for the year:

Chesapeake Energy said on Monday its chief executive, Aubrey K. McClendon, would not receive a bonus for 2012.

Last year was a rough one for Chesapeake and Mr. McClendon. The company faced both severe financial strains, brought on by low gas prices and heavy spending, and a corporate governance dispute that resulted in shareholders effectively taking control of the board away from Mr. McClendon, Chesapeake’s co-founder, in June.

Mr. McClendon has come under fire for blurring the line between his personal dealings and those of the company. He was stripped of his title as chairman in June.

Mr. McClendon drew criticism for taking a personal stake in Chesapeake wells and then using those investments as collateral for up to $1.1 billion in loans mostly devoted to paying for his share of the cost of the wells. His dealings are being examined by a board committee, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

As part of the company’s efforts to shore up its corporate governance, Mr. McClendon will reimburse the company for his personal use of company aircraft in excess of $250,000. Previously, that amount was $500,000, according to a filing with the S.E.C.

 As a shareholder, I guess I’d be more interested in the ability to nominate directors and the details of the company’s cost cutting measures. But the CEO’s troubles and now lack of pay are more interesting for the scandal and human-interest factor. Either way, it’s a good story.

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