Thursday, March 3, 2016

Aubrey McClendon - The End of an Era

I can't stop thinking about Aubrey McClendon.  Yesterday, I wrote that his indictment by the Department of Justice felt a little like the line of a circle coming back around, but upon hearing of his death I feel instead like it's the end of an era.  He symbolized the shale revolution:  the embrace of new technology, the gun slinging risk of the scrappy independent and the ability to succeed where others had not dared to try.  Aubrey didn't invent the shale gas industry, but he put it on the front page.

For years, I couldn't help but think about Aubrey.  Here was this larger than life character, an old fashioned wildcatter who was at the leading edge of a revolution.  His company, his lifestyle, his guts and of course his glory were painted all over shale gas.  Around 2009, I contemplated creating a character called Fake Aubrey based on Fake Steve Jobs, where I could opine daily on the gas industry and life in general in the caricatural voice of a swaggering, egotistic oil man.  I gathered a bunch of research, but I never got around to writing it.  Although Aubrey was a distant public figure, I had this odd feeling that he was a part of my life and the whole thing just felt wrong.

I'm sure there will be a lot said in the media today and in coming weeks about Aubrey.  At this point we can speculate about how the crash happened and probably draw similar conclusions, but that should not diminish his legacy.  He will remain the second most important figure in shale gas (George Mitchell will always be #1).  He was the classic Type A businessman that pushed the envelope to build his business and an entire industry in lighting speed.  It was fast and messy, as one might expect in retrospect when you combine transformational technology with a highly cyclical industry, but he led America back into a leadership position in world energy production. He took people on a roller coaster ride and made a lot of them rich along the way.

Aubrey's era was probably already over before he died.  The investors, lawyers and accountants long ago took over from the swashbucklers at the energy independents.  Another golden age of independents has passed for now, but when they return - and they absolutely will at some point - the memory of Aubrey McClendon will rise with them.  Love him or hate him, he will not soon be forgotten.

[3/4/16: FT.com has a nice, balanced piece on Aubrey (may require registration)]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know the impulse is to say we have no more larger than life stories, but McClendon's career, downfall, and demise is as Shakespearean as corporate life gets. There is a good self-profile that Aubrey did in the form of an interview with Forbes in fall 2011, when he was still riding pretty high. It's at http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2011/10/05/in-his-own-words-chesapeakes-aubrey-mcclendon-answers-our-25-questions/