Blankenship stepping down as Massey CEO

EMBATTLED Massey Energy chairman and chief executive Don Blankenship will retire from his post, effective December 31, after nearly 30 years with the Appalachian producer.
Blankenship stepping down as Massey CEO Blankenship stepping down as Massey CEO Blankenship stepping down as Massey CEO Blankenship stepping down as Massey CEO Blankenship stepping down as Massey CEO

Massey chief Don Blankenship.

Donna Schmidt

Blankenship will be succeeded by Baxter Phillips Jr as CEO and Admiral Bobby Inman as non-executive chairman.

Phillips has been with Massey Energy since 1981 and was most recently the company’s president. Inman has been a director on the Massey board since 1985.

“After almost three decades at Massey it is time for me to move on,” Blankenship said.

“Baxter and I have worked together for 28 years and he will provide the company great executive leadership.”

Phillips thanked Blankenship for his work to build the company.

“This is a strong and successful coal company, and I will work hard to match and surpass its record of success,” he said.

Blankenship took the seat of chairman and CEO in November 2000. Between then and November 2008, he concurrently held the seat of president.

He has also been chairman, CEO and president of AT Massey Coal, Massey’s wholly owned and sole direct operating subsidiary, since 1992.

Blankenship joined the company’s Rawl Sales and Processing arm in 1982. He was president of the Massey Coal Services subsidiary from 1989 to 1991, and president and chief operating officer from 1990 to 1991.

Massey said that, in the last 10 years since becoming a public company, Blankenship had driven the company’s growth and nearly doubled staff from 3662 employees in 2000 to more than 7300 today. Its market capitalization has increased from $US758 million in 2000 to about $5 billion today, and annual revenue had risen from $1.08 billion in 2000 to $2.7 billion in 2009.

Phillips became president of Massey Energy in November 2008. Before that, he was executive vice-president and chief administrative officer from 2004, senior vice-president and chief financial officer from 2003 to 2004, and vice-president and treasurer from 2000 to 2003. Since joining Massey in 1981, he has also served as corporate treasurer, manager of export sales and corporate human resources manager, among other roles.

The announcement of Blankenship’s departure has come amid a flurry of activity for the Virginia-based company. It has recently been the center of merger and acquisition discussions and has been doing battle with federal investigators in the ongoing probe of the April 5 explosion at its Upper Big Branch operation which killed 29 workers.

While West Virginian state officials confirmed late last week that Blankenship had been given a subpoena to be interviewed in its investigation, it is unclear what the retirement announcement will mean to those plans and the company did not comment publicly Friday.

The nation’s largest industry union, the United Mine Workers of America, responded to the news Friday evening after months of calling for Blankenship’s removal following the UBB blast.

"The announcement … brings to a close a long and difficult chapter in the history of the coal industry, one that has all too often been associated with human tragedy,” UMWA president Cecil Roberts said.

“We called for Mr Blankenship's ouster as head of Massey due to the culture of production first and safety last that he has fostered at Massey. We are gratified that this action has finally occurred.”

The retirement presented an “opportunity” for the state and nation’s coal industry to step back from a negative image created in part, Roberts said, by the Massey executive’s leadership.

“Let us take this opportunity to move forward in a reasonable, rational way as we work to overcome the many difficult issues that confront our industry."

Massey is the fourth-largest producer in the US, with 19 mining complexes in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.