In a world of fear, greed and sensationalism there is an untold story that is often hidden from our view. It can only be accessed with the lens of an elevated picture. It is found in the eye of the storm. See not the storm but rather that which ignited its creation.
Aubrey is a man who built an empire with pioneering courage and determination yet he was accused of being reckless, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to rig bids for the purchase of oil and natural gas leases in northwest Oklahoma, and he’s been pulled down time and time again by people who are on the sidelines watching him succeed.
Much of the media positions the story in such a way that Aubrey is guilty of a list of wrong doings. That is indeed what it looks like on the surface. But you have to look deeper to get the real story. You have to look at why great people give their entire lives, doing good work, building, architecting and truly making the difference… only to be taken down by a handful of people.
Today my heart is heavy. Not because Aubrey McClendon was a reckless man, but because we’ve just lost one of the most entrepreneurial energy leaders of our time. An advocate for natural cleaner gas, an inventor, and a creator, Aubrey was everything a true entrepreneur could be. Societies and economies are built on business and once again we have failed to see that every time we take down our business leaders we are actually taking down ourselves.
Aubrey McClendon was born July 14, 1959, in Oklahoma City, to Joe and Carole McClendon. He was a son, a father, a husband, a friend. Aubrey graduated from Duke University in 1981 where he met his wife, Kathleen Upton Byrns and they had three children Jack, Callie, and Will.
Aubrey’s early career saw him working as an accountant and a Landman, which gave him the foundation and insight to pursue his own business in the oil and natural gas sector. Aubrey was a visionary leader and entrepreneur in every sense of the word. He had ownership in restaurants, ran hedge funds, invested in a cancer treatment center, and owned he a lot of lands. From 2008 to 2013, Aubrey was one of the U.S.’s largest landowners, owning more than 100,000 acres.
Being a fan of sports, Aubrey also owned 20% of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. He made sizeable donations to and served on the board of directors for many municipal and private organizations, of which there are too many to mention. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Heritage Foundation’s Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2007, and in 2009, he was a top finalist for CEO of the Year at the Platts Global Energy Awards. In 2010, U.S. Steel Tubular Products, Inc., gave Aubrey the Chief Roughneck Award, which honors the lifetime achievements of petroleum industry leaders. In 2011, he was awarded the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur Of The Year in Energy, Cleantech, and Natural Resources.
On March 1, 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Aubrey McClendon for violating antitrust laws, with conspiring to suppress prices paid for oil and natural gas leases by allegedly rigging the bidding process. Knowing the scope of Aubrey’s efforts and contributions, we are left with pressing unanswered questions:
How does one person accomplish so much greatness and yet be accused of such wrong doings?
What was the intention and motives of his accusers?
Why was Aubrey backed into a corner and left with no way out?
Why is he dead?
By virtue of being entrepreneurial, you must work on the edge of boundaries. You work day in day out. 16 hour days are normal days. You must break common rules and you must push the envelope further in order to create new outcomes. That’s not unethical or unlawful – that’s “entrepreneurial”. Nothing has ever progressed without a change in how things currently are. That’s what entrepreneurs do. They look to the future and work back from there. They push boundaries and make new normals. True entrepreneurs are not motivated by money and power, they are “creators”. They build things. They have honest intentions. They are visionary. They change the way the world works and succeeds. Sometimes they have massive gains, sometimes they have massive losses. The stakes are high and they risk it all.
Nothing has ever progressed without a change in how things currently are. That’s what entrepreneurs do. They look to the future and work back from there. They push boundaries and make new normals. True entrepreneurs are not motivated by money and power, they are “creators”. They build things. They have honest intentions. They are visionary. They change the way the world works and succeeds. Sometimes they have massive gains, sometimes they have massive losses. The stakes are high and they risk it all.
True entrepreneurs are not motivated by money and power, they are “creators”. They build things. They have honest intentions. They are visionary. They change the way the world works and succeeds. Sometimes they have massive gains, sometimes they have massive losses. The stakes are high and they risk it all.
To be in business is to break boundaries. It’s that simple. There’s not a business or an organization on the planet that has not broken a rule, stepped over a law, or made a mistake. And that includes the law firms and the judges and jury’s themselves. Given this, I have to wonder where is the latitude in our culture that allows for change and progress?
Sadly, we have allowed our system, our society, and our beliefs to take down our greatest people. If there’s one thing for certain, Aubrey’s death has shown us that something needs to be done. It’s time we stopped pointing fingers, looked deeper and got to the source of what’s really going on.
Who is to blame?
Aubrey and lifetime friend Tom Ward co-founded Chesapeake Energy Corporation in 1989, both at the age of 29. Aubrey became chairman and chief executive officer of Chesapeake while Tom served as the president and chief financial officer and the company drilled its first two wells in Garvin County, Oklahoma in May 1989. Aubrey focused on drilling unconventional reservoirs such as fractured carbonates and shales and was an early adopter of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques which fast-tracked the company growth.
In 1993, Chesapeake became a publicly traded company and in the following three years its stock was the most successful in the country, rising 274% in value from 1994-97. By 2005, it was a well-known fact that Aubrey was one of the country’s top-performing business leaders. After many years of building the empire, he left his own company and went on to become the founder and chief executive officer of a new firm called American Energy Partners, LP.
No entrepreneur and builder of a company would want to leave what they created. Circumstances and outside influences force it to happen. People find fault. They look for reasons to make accusations. Drama and sensationalism are tools used to sway public opinion, investment and stock prices. That’s the real crime that nobody is talking about.
The thing that doesn’t get reported and what most people don’t realize about entrepreneurs is that they already have money, they already have the intelligence and they already have the guts. For the entrepreneur, business is the execution of a dream. It is a self-expression much like an artist with a painting. It’s not about control, power and money it’s much more essential to our human nature as people of contribution and creation.
I’ve heard people say that companies are a separate entity from the people who run them. I beg to differ. Great companies are always inspired by people, vision, and leadership. Take, for example, Steve Jobs at Apple Computers. He was a true entrepreneur yet it wasn’t long before this mastermind company was under attack by people who tried to take him out. Greed takes over. Control takes over. Dominance takes over and the entrepreneur who built it gets taken out of their own creation. This happens time and time again, especially when companies grow and become publically traded companies. We all know this, we watch it happen and we do nothing.
The truth is, visionaries are rare. Trying to replicate that kind of energy, obsession, and pure determination is next to impossible. So stealing other people’s ideas and companies, simply doesn’t work in the long term. In the short term, it may happen, but the long term picture reveals so much more. You have an iPhone in your hand today because Steve Jobs went back to Apple after being ousted from his own company. When the 10-year mutiny ended, Steve returned to Apple and the IPhone was born. What a waste of ten years. Who pays the price for that lost time? I believe the real crime here was with the people who forced him out. That’s where the law fails our business leaders.
People who have given their lives to business are generally not “crooks” and manipulators, they are powerful visionaries who like to grow and build things and they will make a few mistakes along the way, as every human being on the planet does. What makes one person’s errors more acceptable than others? These are the complex questions for the day.
We are left with even more, even deeper questions:
Where is the latitude that we must afford entrepreneurs for growing companies as they surpass boundaries and create anew?
How do we provide our leaders and entrepreneurs with the ability to make mistakes?
Where is the clause for being human?
Where does the law stop people from taking down leaders and visionaries from their own companies and creations?
Where is the system failing us all in terms of allowing power and dominance to rule the day?
What is all of this doing to the long-term future of our leadership and business culture overall?
Who wants to create a company and only to end up in jail?
Should it be against the law to be ousted and sued by your own company?
Should there be a way to keep entrepreneurs protected rather than giving others the ability to take them down?
Should companies that become public have a protection clause for founders given they started the company and built it, in the first place?
Right now, rather than focus on these important questions, the mainstream news is focusing on the accident of Aubrey’s death. That accident is a result of the real issues it is not the issue. We can’t move forward from drama and sensationalism. We have to go deeper. The lack of answers and conversation around all of these questions is why Aubrey McClendon is dead today. That is the real tragedy here.
When the federal grand jury indicted Aubrey for conspiring to suppress prices paid for oil and natural gas leases by allegedly rigging the bidding process, they changed the world ahead. Aubrey denied all charges against him, arguing that for 35 years he has worked to create jobs and help Oklahoma’s economy while providing plentiful energy for the entire country. He said, “The charge that has been filed against me today is wrong and unprecedented, I have been singled out as the only person in the oil and gas industry in over 110 years since the Sherman Act became law to have been accused of this crime in relation to joint bidding on leasehold.”
Aubrey died the next day, on March 2, 2016, when his vehicle crashed into a concrete bridge embankment. Aubrey was backed into a corner with now way out and that’s about the biggest “F*** You” that Aubrey could have conjured up. And it worked – they can’t get him now.
At the end of the day, it is our loss. We are left without Aubrey’s vision, without his determination, without his power, and without his foresight. His generosity and his entrepreneurial leadership are now gone. There is a gaping hole left in every business he touched. Most sadly, his family and friends, are left without his presence and love.
Without a doubt, this is a landslide loss for the energy industry, for business and for entrepreneurs overall.
Aubrey your death has left us with a powerful set of questions that could change the world if we answered them. We understand that the answers can only come with elevated intention and we all have work to do, to get there. Thank you for being an exemplary example of leadership, for all you have given and for the difference you made. We are truly sorry for the darkness of the world and how it has impacted you. Forgive us for what we have done, we are young minds to your future soul.
Jimi Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, we will know peace”.
Aubrey McClendon, may you know peace now.
Tina Olivero is a creative, 25-year veteran of business development and publishing. She is an innovative, tech-savvy, entrepreneur that focuses on elevating companies, communities, and people. She spends her time architecting new business ideas, coaching and also has fun as an international speaker. Her abilities are grounded in a holistic approach that assists clients in overcoming business challenges and meeting business goals.
To book Tina for a consult on business growth and content strategy in the digital era, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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