Burned by Icahn, Cheniere’s Ex-CEO Contemplates Life as Ski Bum

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Charif Souki pronounced he knew something was wrong on Dec. 8 when Cheniere Energy Inc.’s house of directors asked him to leave a room — and afterwards spent 10 hours articulate though him.

The association co-founder flew to his home in Aspen that week and waited for a preference on his fate. After spending dual decades building adult Cheniere, Souki had turn inextricable in a quarrel with billionaire romantic financier Carl Icahn over a company’s future. He was usually a month divided from examination a initial trade of U.S. liquefied healthy gas leave a Sabine Pass depot in Louisiana.

Souki perceived word from a association lawyers on Saturday. “They explained to me we was terminated,” he said.

Souki, 62, bears no ill feelings over a dismissal, he pronounced in a phone speak from Aspen on Monday. He pronounced he simply had some-more desirous skeleton for Cheniere than a board. He wanted to double Sabine Pass’s trade ability over a subsequent 8 years, shrugging off diseased oil markets and a faith among many analysts that a tellurian LNG marketplace is headed for oversupply.

“The house of a association has motionless to run it as a quasi-utility until they see how a financial markets are going,” Souki pronounced in a phone interview. “They motionless an businessman was not a best chairman to run a company.”

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As a Beirut-raised investment landowner in his early adulthood, Souki got his start in building companies in a 1980s with a array of smart restaurants in Aspen and Los Angeles. It was during one of these joints, Mezzaluna in Los Angeles, that Nicole Brown Simpson dined on a final night of her life. Her mom left her eyeglasses behind, and a waiter, Ron Goldman, stopped during Simpson’s condo to lapse them. Both he and Simpson were murdered, heading to a O.J. Simpson trial.

In a mid-’90s that he waded into a oil and gas space — holding control of a former grill sequence called All American Burger, Inc. that had morphed into a Hollywood film-colorization company. The association was now primed to snippet a arc of a U.S. healthy gas industry.

Rechristened “Cheniere” — a Cajun word for high land around a engulf — a association was bustling early final decade building LNG import terminals when a prevalent proof was that a U.S. lacked adequate pot of a power-plant and heating fuel. Then came a shale revolution, unlocking immeasurable stores of U.S. gas and ruining Cheniere’s plans. Souki succeeded in lifting a money indispensable to retrofit Sabine Pass — that might strech during slightest $15 billion — for exports.

“This is an particular that was meditative forward of Chevron, Exxon, Shell — guys who’ve been in these markets for years and years,” pronounced Robert Norfleet, an researcher during Alembic Global Advisors. “He’s even before them in kind of assessing this good marketplace potential.”

Today, though, there are new challenges. The gas and oil industries are underneath encircle from low prices. While Cheniere has managed to ink long-term, take-or-pay agreements with clients that exaggerate investment grades, Souki never answered a opposite regard of many investors -– what he dictated to do with a billions of dollars in income once a cargoes started moving.

“People have usually started to question: ‘What are we going to do? Are we going to compensate this behind in a form of a dividend? Are we going to revoke debt?’” Norfleet said. “Instead, with Charif, we heard, ‘Well, we wish to continue to grow a franchise.’”

That doubt now falls to Neal Shear, a former conduct of Morgan Stanley’s line multiplication and a Cheniere house member given 2014. In a phone speak Monday, a newly allocated halt CEO pronounced it’s too shortly to speak about vital changes.

“I’m a integrate hours into this gig,” he said. “I have to collect my thoughts and put them together.”

Billionaire romantic financier Carl Icahn didn’t wait prolonged to comment. On his personal website, a largest Cheniere shareholder called Souki a “talented entrepreneur” though praised a house for carrying a “guts” to mislay him. Icahn, who initial bought Cheniere shares this past summer, also criticized Souki for his offered most of his interest in a company.

Souki has sold $118 million in Cheniere batch given January, timorous his position by about a third, according to association filings. Icahn suggested that might concede Souki to draft a riskier trail for a association than would best offer investors.

$1 Salary

Souki pronounced he respects Icahn, though deserted a idea that his batch sales represented anything improper. Since shortening his bottom income to $1 from $800,000 in Dec 2014, he usually gets paid in association shares, he noted. “I attempted spending my batch during Costco, though they won’t take it,” he joked.

Cheniere shares fell 2.8 percent to $40.14 in New York trade Monday. The batch has mislaid 52 percent from a record high in Sep 2014, slicing a company’s marketplace value to $9.5 billion.

Acquisition Target

Souki’s ouster might make a association an merger aim from a vast integrated oil giant, pronounced William Frohnhoefer, an researcher during BTIG LLC in New York. He’s left behind a association with a “clean structure” that will start to start generating poignant money upsurge subsequent year, a researcher said. “It’s unequivocally in a honeyed mark — it’s during a indicate of being accretive.”

Souki pronounced he isn’t retiring. He still owns 5 million shares in Cheniere and skeleton to be active. “This time we am going to be on a other side of a blockade with a ability to impugn if we don’t like something,” he said. He’s meditative about removing behind into business in Mar or Apr though wouldn’t elaborate on that.

When a tankers finally do arrive during Sabine Pass, Souki will substantially be in Aspen, where he intends to perform another lifelong desire.

“I’m going to go behind to what we always wanted to do, be a ski bum,” he said.

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