EnergySolutions Inc. on Friday accepted the resignation of CEO Steve Creamer and replaced him with Val John Christensen, effective immediately.
Christensen will add the chief executive's duties to his role as president of the Utah-based company , which offers international nuclear waste-storage and other industry-related services. Christensen has served as president of EnergySolutions since December 2008, having previously filled the posts of executive vice president and general counsel.
Creamer also resigned as chairman of the board. Steven Rogel, one of EnergySolutions' independent directors and a one-time board chairman and CEO of Weyerhaeuser Co., will become chairman of the EnergySolutions board.
Investors were not, initially at least, happy with the news. In early trading Friday on the NYSE, EnergySolutions' stock lost nearly 30 percent, falling into the $5.50 per share range. It had closed on Thursday at $7.79. By the end of Friday's trading, the stock was at $6.35 per share, down $1.44 or 18.5 percent.
That slide may have prompted the new chief executive and the board to hold a quickly-announced teleconference call at mid-morning out of Boston, in which Christensen stressed that Creamer's departure -- though coming earlier than expected -- had been part of a succession plan approved by the board early last year.
"This was going to happen this year," Christensen said. However, he flatly refused to release detailed information on the reasons for Creamer's admittedly "abrupt" decision to resign some one to five months earlier than originally scheduled. Christensen said Creamer made his decision during a board meeting on Thursday.
"About a year ago, I was made [EnergySolutions] president as part of a longer term succession plan. The board and CEO Steve Creamer identified me as the most likely candidate. Steve's plan throughout the [past] year was to depart the company sometime in the spring or summer [of 2010]."
"[This does] appear to be an abrupt," Christensen said, apologizing for how the terse announcement was made eary Friday. He said that by the time the wording of the announcement was ironed out, it was already after midnight Utah time.
"It appears [this was] somewhat of a 'panic' release," Christensen said, adding that the decision was made to hold Friday's teleconference with analysts and financial media to "make sure everyone understands what did not happen."
Christensen said that "this change had nothing to do with any corporate malfeasance, fraud or issues with customers or contracts. [There has been] no dispute between Steve Creamer and the board; no accounting issues, no fundamental or economic issues related to his resignation."
He added that while Creamer would not have an office at EnergySolutions any longer, he would be act as an adviser to Christensen, and assist in other transition-related issues.
Creamer's departure came just six days before he was to preside over a Feb. 25 conference call to discuss the company's fiscal 2009 performance. For its fourth quarter, the company has already declared a dividend of $0.025 per share payable on March 12, 2010, to stockholders of record on February 26, 2010.
Creamer's resignation also came just under two months after EnergySolutions CFO Philip O. Strawbridge, who helped with the company's initial public offering, stepped down to "pursue personal business interests." Strwabridge was replaced by Mark C. McBride, formerly EnergySolutions' senior vice president and corporate controller.
Christensen denied that Strawbridge's resignation, though "it looks a bit strange," was in any way related to Creamer's own decision to step down.
Efforts to reach Creamer Friday were not immediately successful. His corporate e-mail address bounced back a request; attempts to reach him at his residence by telephone also failed.
"Steve Creamer had the unique vision and energy to create a strong public company based in Utah that plays a critical role in America's nuclear industry," Christensen stated. "Steve will continue to be an important sounding board and a strong supporter of the company."
EnergySolutions operates a low-level radioactive waste storage site in Tooele County, as well as a site in S. Carolina. The company's efforts to import nuclear wastes from elsewhere in the U.S. and from outside the country have repeatedly put it at odds with state officials.
Creamer, a Utah State University graduate who had been CEO and a member of the EnergySolutions board since 2005 -- and chairman since November 2007 -- had also served as CEO for EnergySolutions' corporate predecessor, Envirocare of Utah, from 2005-2007.
Prior to that, Creamer worked as an engineer with the state's transportation and environmental quality departments. He was president of his own consulting firm from 1976 to 1991, and also was CEO and a minority partner 1990-97 of ECDC Environmental, an industrial waste company.
Creamer also was a co-founder, in 1997, of ISG Resources Inc. Headwaters Inc. absorbed ISG in 2002 with Creamer becoming its CEO. The following year, Creamer co-founded Western Pacific Group, a small private equity fund.