Southwestern Energy names Bill Way as new CEO, delays 2016 capital budget

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 312 views 

Bill Way has taken over as president and CEO of Southwestern Energy Co., succeeding longtime company executive Steve Mueller who has been CEO since 2008, company officials announced after the close of market on Wednesday.

Way will take over Southwestern’s top job as crude oil and natural gas prices continue to move lower, causing many Wall Street analysts to write off 2016 for most oil and gas firms. Way’s promotion also comes only weeks after the Houston-based oil and gas driller announced plans to shut down drilling operations in the Fayetteville Shale, taking its last two operating rigs offline.

At the time, company spokeswoman Christine Fowler told Talk Business & Politics that the Houston oil and gas giant would unveil its 2016 capital budget in early January, which will include any spending and operation cuts in the Arkansas play that propelled the company to the top ranks of the natural gas drilling industry over the past decade.

Today (Jan. 7), Fowler explained that the capital budget for 2016 will likely be delayed. “More than likely we will not issue our 2016 capital guidance until the end of this month or early February,” Fowler said.

Way is coming aboard as Southwestern’s CEO as the entire oil and gas industry struggles to deal with declining oil and gas prices, which have fallen to historic lows over the past year. That trend has caused Southwestern, one of the industry’s low-cost operations leaders, to mothball its entire drilling operations in the Arkansas shale play and transfer much of its capital and assets to the liquids rich Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania.

Now, with the company’s capital plans for 2016 on hold, Way’s first big undertaking on the job will likely take place when the company’s 2016 budget numbers are unveiled in a month or so. As the company’s new CEO, the oil industry veteran will be tasked with explaining to Wall Street analysts, investors and employees how the oil and gas driller will navigate through the industry’s current downturn.

“I am deeply honored and committed to lead this company forward in the spirit of Southwestern Energy, which is rooted in our Formula, and delivering greater value to our shareholders in the future,” Way said in a news release announcing his new position. “I recognize these are difficult times for our industry and for SWN. We are committed to
investing within our cash flow, stabilizing our debt, reducing our cost structure, and addressing our balance sheet as we move forward.”

Way continued: “Southwestern’s robust competitive positioning in the lowest cost portion of the North American natural gas supply curve will provide the company with an attractive growth profile once commodity prices recover.

“In the meantime, we are redesigning Southwestern to win in a more competitive North American natural gas marketplace using our disciplined ‘1.3 PVI hurdle’ as our metric. Our operating excellence, our commitment to win, our enduring values, our exceptional people and, above all, our culture provide us a unique advantage as we take on this challenge.”

Way, who previously service as Southwestern’s president and chief operating officer, joined the company in October 2011. He was appointed to the company’s top position by Southwestern board of directors as part of the company’s succession planning program initiated several years ago.

Mueller, who took over as CEO from longtime Southwestern chairman and chief executive Harold Korell, will continue to serve as a director and as non-executive Chairman of the Board until he retires at the May 2016 annual meeting of stockholders.

“Southwestern Energy has some of the highest quality assets in the industry along with a highly talented staff, and I am excited about the additional value that will be created by this team under Bill’s leadership,” Mueller said. “Bill has played a key role in developing the assets and organization since he joined the company in 2011, and while I will miss working day-to-day with this talented group, I am confident this is the right time and Bill is the right person to meet the challenges we face. I look forward to continuing working with him and the entire Board through the transition period over the next five months.”

Cathy Kehr, Southwestern’s presiding director, said Way was the perfect candidate to take on the role as the company’s new CEO. “The entire Board is excited to have Bill take the reins as CEO, and we are confident his extensive industry experience and development as an executive at Southwestern Energy have prepared him well. The Board also sincerely wishes to thank Steve for his vision and wisdom in the years he has served as CEO, a period of tremendous growth for the company.”

Before joining Southwestern, Way was Senior Vice President for the Americas of BG Group plc with responsibility for exploration and production, midstream and LNG operations in the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, Bolivia, Canada and Argentina.

Way also held various senior leadership and technical positions at ConocoPhillips. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in Industrial Engineering and has an MBA from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In Thursday’s trading session on the Nasdaq stock exchange, Southwestern’s shares were trending upward as the rest of the broader market was caught in huge selloff. The company’s stock up six cents, or 0.84% at $6.75 as more than 16 million shares traded hands.