C. John Wilder pulled the Texas utility TXU Corp. from the brink of insolvency a decade ago, then made a fortune selling it to a group including KKR & Co. in one of the biggest leveraged buyouts in history.
Now Wilder, once called a “turnaround titan” in local media, is on to his next challenge: reviving the hard-pressed energy explorer Exco Resources Inc. for billionaire Wilbur Ross Jr., whose companies owned 18 percent of Exco in June, handpicked Wilder last year to save it even as the worst oil downturn in a generation has battered small drillers, forcing at least 90 into bankruptcy since the start of 2015.
Exco took a key step forward Tuesday, meeting a midnight deadline to amend terms with some of the holders of its senior notes. It can now sell more types of secured debt, after previously being restricted to bank loans and credit lines, a company statement shows.
Wilder “has succeeded fairly well at every one of the initiatives he has undertaken,” according to Ross, whose fortune was built on his knack for leading restructuring efforts in industries from steel to textiles.
"He’s done a very good job downsizing it," Ross said in a telephone interview. “He’s done a good job reducing its capex. He’s done a good job reducing headcount. There are no longer any fundamental issues idiosyncratic to Exco that are within its own control.”
Wilder declined to comment for this story through a representative at his Bluescape Resources Co LLC investment firm.
The biggest factor outside Wilder’s control remains the low price of oil. Exco has acreage in Texas’s oil-rich Eagle Ford shale, where 90 percent of production may return should oil rise above $55 a barrel, based on analysts’ projections. U.S. crude, meanwhile, has remained stubbornly under $50 a barrel. It was trading at $47.06 in New York at 11:10 a.m. on Thursday.
When Wilder was named Exco chairman, the move seemed a challenge he was uniquely qualified to tackle.
At TXU a decade earlier, he established himself as a man who always had a plan, meticulously developing strategies to the very last detail, according to those who knew him during that time. He looked everywhere for ways to shrink debt, from selling money-losing businesses to selling art at the company’s headquarters.