Hess CEO Becomes Billionaire Following Singer Proxy Fight

A little more than a year after settling a proxy fight with Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp. over how to boost the shares of energy giant Hess Corp., the company’s chief executive officer John B. Hess has become a billionaire as the stock hit a 5-year high this week.

The company announced two days ago it would form a master limited partnership to hold its midstream assets, such as rail cars and storage facilities, in North Dakota’s Bakken region, where Hess is the industry’s largest well operator. It also increased its share repurchase program to $6.5 billion from $4 billion. The stock is up 18 percent for the year.

Hess has initiated 11 asset sales valued at $10.5 billion since adding three board members nominated by Elliott Management in May 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The sales, including 1,342 gas stations and a commercial energy-marketing business, will help the New York-based company focus on becoming an oil and gas exploration and production company.

“Hess and others have embarked on an asset monetization strategy to simplify the corporate structure,” said Vincent Piazza, an energy industry analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence in Princeton, New Jersey. “Capital redeployment has facilitated a sharper focus on exploration and production business where Hess is seeing better results.”

Hess, 60, has a $1.2 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s never appeared on an international wealth ranking and declined to comment on his net worth, Patrick Scanlan, a spokesman for the company, said in a phone call.

Wills, Trusts

The billionaire owns more than 9 million shares of Hess directly and in trusts for his benefit and that of his children. He also has 1.3 million exercisable options. He has sole voting power over 27 million of the company’s shares because he’s a trustee of 16 trusts, including those for the benefit of his sisters Constance and Marlene, according to the company’s 2014 proxy statement.

Shares credited to Hess, who has been CEO since 1995, include his one-third interest in 10 million shares held in a charitable lead trust created after the death of his father, Leon, in 1999, according to wills filed in New York City for the patriarch and his wife Norma, who died in 2010. The assets in the charitable lead trust revert to the heirs in 2035 while the income during the life of the trust goes to charity. The Hess Foundation had income of $32 million from the trust in 2012, according to the organization’s tax return.

Estate Taxes

Leon Hess built the company from an oil-delivery service in Asbury Park, New Jersey, into one of the world’s largest integrated oil companies. He also owned the New York Jets football team, which he forbade family members from controlling and ordered its sale to pay estate taxes to preserve the family’s interest in Hess Corp., according to his will. The family controls more than 10 percent of the company.

John Hess serves on the board of trustees of the center for Strategic and International Studies and the board of directors of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, among other institutions.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the name of Hess’s sister in the 6th paragraph.)

(Updates with share buyback information in second paragraph.)
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