Massey Energy Co., the country’s fourth largest coal company, begins the new year with an uncertain future and a new leader. Baxter F. Phillips Jr. took over as CEO last month following the abrupt retirement of embattled Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship.
Blankenship joined the Richmond-based coal company in 1982 and had served as its chief executive since 2000. His retirement on Dec. 31 came eight months after an explosion at a Masseyowned
mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners in what was the worst coal-mining disaster in the U.S. in nearly 40 years. Since the blast at Upper Big Branch April 5, Blankenship — a self-made millionaire
from humble origins who was known as a union buster — suffered a wave of criticism.
The accident prompted an FBI probe, an ongoing federal investigation by the country’s mine safety agency, and civil and shareholder lawsuits. At the company’s shareholder meeting in May about
1,000 protesters, including members of the United Mine Workers of America, took to the streets of downtown Richmond to demonstrate against Massey and to call for Blankenship’s firing. Blankenship
blasted back at critics, testifying before Congress that the company was committed to workplace safety, despite a history of legal challenges to many safety violations.
In a statement about Blankenship’s retirement, the company said that in the 10 years since Massey became a public company under Blankenship’s tenure, it had grown from 3,662 employees to more than 7,300 today. Meanwhile, market capitalization increased from $758 million in 2000 to about $5 billion today, and annual revenue rose from $1 billion to $2.7 billion in 2009. “I want to thank Don
for all he has done to build Massey Energy,” Phillips said in the statement. “This is a strong and successful coal company, and I will work hard to match and surpass its record of success.”
Unlike Massey, who lived n West Virginia near many of Massey’s mines, Phillips lives in Richmond. He has been with the company since 1981, serving in several executive capacities, including
president since 2008. Retired Adm. Bobby Inman, Massey’s lead independent director, succeeds Blankenship as the non-executive chairman. Currently, Massey’s board is studying strategic options,
including its sale, a merger or the acquisition of another company. News of Blankenship’s departure boosted the value of the company’s stock and expectations of a possible sale. Alpha Natural Resources in Abingdon has reportedly made a bid for Massey, and some foreign entities are also said to be interested in acquiring the company.
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