While there are quite a few candidates to choose from, I really had high hopes for Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) CEO Doug Lawler after he took over for ousted founder Aubrey McClendon in 2013. He was expected to bring financial discipline to a company that had a history of wild spending. He promised disciplined capital spending, which was expected to "drive [the company] toward top-quartile operational, financial and shareholder return performance among [its] peers." Instead, he made a number of missteps, causing the stock to sink nearly 80% since he took the reins.
One of the more notable blunders was the botched early redemption of $1.3 billion of notes due in 2019. The company waited one month too long to tell investors of its planned redemption, which cost Chesapeake $438.7 million in additional interest and penalties after it lost a lawsuit brought against it by bondholders.
Making matters even worse was the decision to revert to the company's free-spending ways, with Chesapeake projected to burn through more than $2 billion in cash this year. While some of that is due to a crash in oil and gas prices, Lawler has pushed the company to grow its adjusted production by 6% to 8% this year, despite the fact that the oil and gas markets remain vastly oversupplied. Instead of leaving that incremental production in the ground, the company burned through more cash than it needed to this year, which is causing significant financial stress, with some of its bonds now trading at distressed levels.
While Lawler inherited a tough situation, he hasn't engineered the turnaround many expected. Instead, his slip-ups have incinerated cash and shareholder value, which now has the company in a precarious financial position.
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