Cheniere Energy Inc.’s (NYSE MKT: LNG) board ousted CEO Charif Souki on Sunday, amidst his reported friction with activist investor Carl Icahn, who is now the company’s largest shareholder and who has named two allies to the company’s board. The company has appointed board member Neal A. Shear as interim president and CEO, and G. Andrea Botta as chairman of the company’s board of directors, effective immediately. The firing of Souki, who is the company's co-founder, chairman, president, and CEO, comes just weeks before Cheniere is set to become the first company to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the mainland US.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Icahn wants to rein in Cheniere’s expansion plans and has criticized how much the company pays its top officers – including Souki’s large compensation package, which is one of the highest in the US. The Associated Press reported that, in 2013, Souki had the highest compensation package for a US executive across all public companies, with a mostly stock package valued at $142 million.
Following Souki's departure, Shear will act as interim president and CEO. He has also been appointed as chairman of the boards of Cheniere Energy Partners GP LLC, the general partner of Cheniere Energy Partners LP, and Cheniere Energy Partners LP Holdings LLC.
The board’s Governance and Nominating Committee will immediately begin a search for a permanent CEO. Shear, together with a special committee of the board of directors, will work with Cheniere's executive team to facilitate an orderly leadership transition. In addition, board member Nuno Brandolini will take over as head of Cheniere's Compensation Committee.
Shear, a member of Cheniere's board of directors since 2014, is a 30-year industry veteran with experience managing global commodities activities and investments across a variety of asset classes. He is a partner of Silverpeak Strategic Partners LP, a private investment company, and served as CEO of Higgs Capital Management, a commodity-focused hedge fund, until 2014. Prior to Higgs Capital Management, Shear served as global head of Securities at UBS Investment Bank and was a partner at Apollo Global Management. He spent 26 years at Morgan Stanley as a founder of its commodities business, serving in several leadership roles, including head of the Commodities Division, global head of Fixed Income, and co-head of Institutional Sales and Trading.
Botta has been a member of Cheniere's board of directors since 2010. Since 2006, he has served as president of Glenco LLC, a private investment company. Prior to joining Glenco, Botta served as managing director of Morgan Stanley from 1999 to 2006. He served as president of EXOR America Inc. (formerly IFINT-USA Inc.), holding company of the Agnelli family, from 1993 until 1999, and for more than five years prior as vice president of Acquisitions of IFINT-USA Inc. He serves on the board of directors of Graphic Packaging Holding Co., chairing its Compensation Committee.
Cheniere Energy is a Houston-based energy company primarily engaged in LNG-related businesses, owns, and operates the Sabine Pass LNG terminal and Creole Trail Pipeline in Louisiana. Through its subsidiary, Cheniere Energy Partners LP, Cheniere is developing liquefaction projects at the Sabine Pass LNG terminal and near Corpus Christi, Texas.