At The Peak
Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon knows a fair share about building a great company.
Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon.
Photo by Jeremy Charles.
Aubrey K. McClendon has served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Chesapeake Energy Corporation since co-founding the company in 1989. From 1982 to 1989, McClendon was an independent producer of oil and natural gas. A 1981 graduate of Duke University, today he is one of the state’s most recognizable leaders of the business community and an outspoken advocate for natural gas as an affordable, abundant, clean and American fuel.
Oklahoma Magazine: What are the keys, in your opinion, to building a great company? And what are the keys to being a great employer, from the perspective of employees?
Aubrey McClendon: I strongly believe that employee teamwork and initiative are what make a company successful and enable it to outperform its peers. To recruit and retain the best employees, you must treat them well and empower them in their careers. This includes giving them real responsibility and the freedom to take calculated risks and grow. Workplace perks don’t hurt, either. That’s why Chesapeake offers the best in benefits, on-site amenities and a beautiful campus – because we want to ensure we continue to attract and retain the best employees in the world, not just in the state of Oklahoma.
OM: What is the central philosophy that you brought to the company culture that you believe helped propel it to greatness?
AM: I’ve always had a short memory and a thick skin. In other words, I’ve never let other people’s thoughts about Chesapeake or me affect how we do business. In fact, some of our current business partners were not fans of Chesapeake when the company began, but we’re happy to work with them today. In addition, our company is dedicated to hard work and creativity, along with balanced risk taking. We believe these three qualities are critical elements of our culture.
OM: To what do you attribute the fast and tremendous growth of Chesapeake?
AM: Tom Ward and I began the company with a strong drive to succeed. We were both young and on our own, had a new idea and didn’t have a lot to lose if we were unsuccessful. We learned early on that hard work was the key difference maker in building a business. This work ethic continues at Chesapeake through the company’s more than 12,000 employees.
OM: Was the company campus’ innovative design something you envisioned? If so, what was the inspiration?
AM: Yes, it was. From the day in 1987 that I bought the small building that I still office in today, I have been focused on building a campus that is architecturally appealing and functions well on a human scale. I like to think of our company as being organic and fast moving, so we build horizontally and on an as-needed basis (which is all the time, these days!).
I was lucky early on to be introduced to Rand Elliott of Elliott + Associates Architects. Working together, we have developed the look of our campus with a collegiate environment as the inspiration. I had a great time in college, but more importantly, I believe businesses succeed if people work together on a collegial level. I wanted to keep our buildings horizontal in scale to reflect our environment of teamwork versus hierarchy. And ultimately, I hope our campus also communicates the level of detail we bring to each job we do. When we care about the way our campus looks, we show our employees, partners and community that we take this same care in our daily oil and natural gas operations.
OM: What do you think was the most significant development at Chesapeake that contributed to its success?
AM: It began with our interest in horizontal drilling and a focus on unconventional reservoirs – the type of rocks where you know the oil and gas is present, but you just aren’t sure if it can be extracted profitably. Using that approach, we achieved early success between 1989 and 1992, which set the stage for the most exciting day of our young careers, Feb. 4, 1993 – the day Chesapeake completed its initial public offering. To be 33 years old and celebrating a company that went public just four years after its founding was truly exciting. We have now been a company for 22 years and are proud to continue to build value for our shareholders every day.
OM: Where do you see the company in 10 years?
AM: I truly believe that Chesapeake’s best 10 years will be the 10 years ahead of us because of the changes in unconventional reservoir development that we helped lead in the past five years. We are truly changing our nation’s – and I think our world’s – energy future for the better by discovering new, vast, unconventional oil and natural gas in the U.S. I am determined to break OPEC’s stranglehold on America’s economic future, and I am equally determined to see clean American natural gas replace dirty coal as the primary fuel for power generation in our country.
OM: In your opinion, is there room in today’s environment for an entrepreneur?
AM: Sure, I think there is room for many types of individuals and personalities in any industry. At Chesapeake, we encourage employees to be entrepreneurial within our company. We create an environment that encourages creativity, showing our employees that you don’t have to go out on your own to have an innovative work experience. With that being said, there are certain areas of our business where we discourage creativity. Accounting is one example!
OM: What advice would you give a young, aspiring executive looking to achieve and to make his (or her) mark in the corporate world today?
AM: I would advise any young professional to focus on finding something that you love, and then be determined to be the best at what you do. I have never met a rich person who set out to be that way. Instead, most wealthy people found personal and professional fulfillment by identifying what they loved and were good at, and then poring themselves into their professions. More often than not, financial success becomes an outgrowth of dedication to a craft.