* Encana CEO to retire immediately
* Board member to take duties while replacement sought
* Decision unexpected
By Scott Haggett
CALGARY, Alberta, Jan 11 Encana Corp,
Canada's No. 1 natural-gas producer, said on Friday Chief
Executive Randy Eresman will retire immediately, with board
member Clayton Woitas taking over his duties until a permanent
replacement is found.
Eresman's decision was unexpected. He said in a release that
he believes the company is financially and operationally sound
and that Encana's effort to move away from its focus on natural
gas and produce more oil was on track.
"Now is the right time for me to step down and to turn over
leadership of Encana to someone with the focus, drive and
commitment to complete the transition," Eresman, 54, said.
Eresman, who led the Calgary, Alberta-based company for
seven years, faced criticism from investors because of a poor
share price performance and U.S. Department of Justice probe
into whether the company illegally colluded with Chesapeake
Energy Corp to lower the price of Michigan exploration
However, the company had begun to benefit from improving
natural gas prices, and last month PetroChina agreed
to pay C$2.2 billion ($2.24 billion) for a 49.9 percent stake in
a prospective Alberta shale gas property.
"I think the strategy is reasonably well set, with the
increased emphasis on liquids and ... given the joint venture
they just signed," said Randy Ollenberger, an analyst at BMO
"The company is on the right track, but I suspect the market
will react positively (to Eresman's departure) just because it's
a change and, presumably some fresh eyes might perceive some
Encana shares closed at C$19.50 on the Toronto Stock
Exchange. They have risen 4.8 percent over the past 12 months
compared with an 8.3 percent drop in the exchange's energy index
over the period.
Interim-CEO Woitas is best known as the former chief
executive of Renaissance Energy Ltd, a publicly traded
natural-gas producer he left a few months before it was bought
by Husky Energy Inc for C$4.3 billion in 2000.
He went on to found Profico Energy Management and sold it in
2006 to Focus Energy Trust for C$1.1 billion. He has been on
Encana's board since 2008.
Eresman will remain on the company's board until the end of
February in order to assist with the transition to a new chief
executive, Encana said.