By Gary McWilliams
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Stephen Chazen, who climbed to the top of Occidental Petroleum over a long career and after he retired and ran a shale oil producer in Texas, has died of illness at age 76.
Chazen was chief executive and chairman of Houston-based Magnolia Oil and Gas Corp, which he helped start up in 2017 after leaving Occidental and led it until this week. Chazen, who was a finance director early in his career, acquired shale properties and pledged to put cash flow above production.
Magnolia, who announced his death on Friday, had said two days earlier that Chazen was stepping down as chairman and CEO due to “serious health reasons.”
He had a long career at Occidental, where he joined in 1994 and climbed through the financial ranks to become CEO. He helped advance the career of current Occidental CEO Vicki Hollub. Chazen returned to Occidental as a director in 2019.
“Steve has been instrumental in transforming Oxy into a focused global energy leader over the past 30 years, serving as chief financial officer, CEO and most recently as independent chairman,” Hollub said in a statement.
“He was the type of businessman who didn’t follow trends, but established trends,” said Christopher Stavos, who took over as CEO of Magnolia this week. “Steve has had a profound influence on the way E&P companies are managed with the goal of creating long-term shareholder value.”
Magnolia was founded in 2017 as a “blank check” company by investors betting on Chazen’s reputation and track record. Chazen used the investors’ money to acquire shale oil and gas properties in the Eagle Ford shale region of South Texas.
He built the company to focus on generating more than capital investment and for modest production growth. That formula – strong cash flow from single digit volume growth – was unusual at the time, but is now widely adopted by other US shale oil producers.
Chazen was “the most important oiler of his generation,” said Paul Sankey, a longtime oil stock analyst, who said Chazen combined “unshakable clarity of point of view, iconoclasm and enormous humor.”
Hollub said, “We cared about him deeply and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, family and friends.”
Plans for a memorial service were not immediately available.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; editing by Frances Kerry)