Chesapeake CEO discusses Culture, Ethics and Business Performance

DLawlerJones School executive MBA alumnus and CEO and president of Chesapeake Energy Doug Lawler spoke to a packed Shell Auditorium on Wednesday, October 8, during the fall’s first Thought Leadership Series. The topic was Culture, Ethics and Business Performance. Lawler, former senior vice president, International and Deepwater Operations at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, has been at the helm of Chesapeake since summer 2013 and is leading the natural gas company through transformation and intense organizational change.


Lawler discussed the challenges of taking on the role during a time when the company faced scrutiny due to senior-level mismanagement of the business and stakeholder trust. “Walking into the organization not knowing anyone, I came in guarded,” he shared. He asked himself who he could trust and realized that others needed to know that he could be trusted. “Leaders must ask themselves ‘Why do others want to follow you? What role does ethics play? What is your sphere of influence beyond your team, beyond your company, beyond your business? Do others see the benefit and outcome of your work?’”


The Impact of Servant Leadership  


As a leader, Lawler stressed, “We don’t have rights. We have responsibilities.” The concept of servant leadership is one that Lawler’s mentor, Anadarko Executive Chairman Jim Hackett, held as a core value. “A leader’s principal role,” said Lawler, “is to be a servant to the organization.”

 

Lawler discussed the legacy issues facing Chesapeake and his role in addressing them. “Chesapeake was often cited as a great place to work,” explained Lawler, “but it was not a great business.” Now the company’s core values include integrity and trust, respect, transparency and open communication, commercial focus, and change leadership.

 

Following these values, Chesapeake is now growing more and spending less and is on track to increase output from 750,000 to more than 1 million barrels of oil equivalent a day in five years.


The Importance of Change Leaders  


Change, said Lawler, is difficult but will always be a part of an organization, as competition is stiff and isn’t going away. Lawler urged attendees to be servant leaders, to empower their employees to make decisions, continue learning, embrace opportunities, determine noise over friction and to be change leaders themselves.


“Identify the change leaders and give them the tools they need,” he added.


Lawler said that he never expected or was interested in being a CEO, but he seized the opportunity. “The pie is infinite. The competition is not sitting next to you; the competition is within you,” he told the audience. He credits his time in the executive MBA program at the Jones School with helping him move beyond linear thinking, cultivate personal humility and gain a foundational education and training in areas that are essential to leaders. “I learned that there are alternate ways to do things,” he noted, “and I did not have all the answers.”


The Next Jones Partners Thought Leadership Series  


The next Jones Partners Thought Leadership Series, titled The Innovator Has No Clothes, will be held on November 6, 2014 and will feature Hightower CEO Elliot Weissbluth and Ralph S. O’Connor Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship Yael Hochberg. Click http://business.rice.edu/TLS_Weissbluth/ for more information.