When the time comes for Valero Energy Corp. CEO Bill Klesse to relinquish his role as head of the giant refining company, the odds-on favorite to succeed him is company veteran Joe Gorder.
Last month, Gorder was named Valero’s president and chief operating officer, effective Jan. 1
Someone who knows Klesse said he “isn’t ready to give up the ship,” that he remains firmly in charge as chairman and CEO, titles he has held since 2007 and 2006, respectively.
But Gorder’s promotion indicates that he’s positioned to rise to the top job at San Antonio’s largest public company.
That Gorder has served in a range of executive posts means “he’s probably the most multi-dimensional” of those who could succeed Klesse, said a former Valero executive, who asked not to be named because he doesn’t have authorization to speak for the company.
Temperamentally, Gorder is hardly the mirror image of his boss.
Klesse has a reputation for being a hands-on executive with an engineer’s analytical skills. He can come across as direct, even gruff at times, while Gorder’s associates describe him as gregarious and intuitive.
In 2013, the two leaders must ensure that Valero’s new hydrocracker units — one at its Port Arthur plant and another at its St. Charles refinery in Louisiana — will run without hiccups. The units, which cost about $1.5 billion? each, will make mostly diesel fuel for which there is a growing market, analysts say.
The company also must engineer the spin-off of its 1,800? retail stores in the United States and Canada in early 2013 and distribute 80 percent of the equity to Valero shareholders. The split is to be completed early in the second quarter.
And Klesse and Gorder will need to improve on Valero’s uneven performance in 2012, as the company struggled with weak demand for its products because of high gasoline prices and high unemployment.
Valero board member Bob Marbut declined to say whether Valero has a succession plan. But he said Gorder’s promotion “is well deserved — I think he’ll do an outstanding job.
“He’s got great leadership skills and he very much represents the culture of Valero, and I think that’s awfully important,” Marbut said. “He’s compassionate and he works well with people no matter what their positions are. He develops respect and you like him, you know? He’s a good communicator.”
Klesse, 66, and Gorder, 55, declined though a spokesman to be interviewed for this story.
Gorder, like Klesse, came into the Valero fold after the company purchased locally based Ultramar Diamond Shamrock in 2001,? where he held a number of executive posts.
At Valero, Gorder has been promoted through a series of top jobs, including heading the company’s European operations in 2011, where he was responsible for integrating Valero’s first European refinery — in southwest Wales — into its system.
For about five? years, Gorder headed Valero’s trading operation as executive vice president of marketing and supply. He supervised traders who purchased crude oil from around the world to feed Valero’s refineries as well as those who sold its products.
That’s a “tougher job at Valero versus somewhere else because of the size of the system,” said Sam Margolin,? vice president at Dahlman Rose & Co. LLC, an investment banking and equity research firm in New York. “Valero was buying upwards of 80 to 100 variants of crude. You don’t see that anywhere else. If he can handle that, that’s pretty impressive.”
Valero’s board will look for “someone who can drive the company’s business as opposed to its operations, and what’s important is presentation and respect internally,” Margolin said. “And (Gorder) certainly checks all those marks.”
There is no written succession plan in place at Valero and no set retirement age. Valero’s board members are asked to retire at age 70, but the age requirement has sometimes been relaxed, Valero spokesman Bill Day said.
As Gorder has ascended at Valero, at least two corporate officers who were talked about as possible candidates to succeed Klesse have retired or shifted to other jobs.
Rich Marcogliese, then 58, retired from Valero as executive vice president and chief operating officer? at year’s end 2010. Marcogliese joined Valero after it acquired an Exxon refinery in northern California in 2000.
More recently, Kim Bowers, executive vice president and general counsel,? was named president of retail for Corner Store Holdings Inc., Valero’s retail stores that will be spun off in early 2013.
Mike Ciskowski remains executive vice president and chief financial officer, while Gene Edwards also remains an executive vice president and chief development officer.
As Gorder has risen at Valero, so has his compensation. Last year, his salary and bonus totaled almost $2.7 million, up from $1.9 million in 2010, according to company proxy statements.
In December, Gorder netted almost $2.4 million when he sold 70,575 shares of Valero stock. He sold the shares to take advantage of options grants that would have expired had he not exercised them, Valero’s Day said.
Marbut said he’s certain that Gorder will continue Valero’s tradition of community involvement and volunteerism.
Gorder joined the Witte Museum’s board of trustees in October.
“We’re so grateful to have him on our board,” Witte Museum president and CEO Marise McDermott said. “His business acumen is essential for the revitalization of this downtown area.”
Also, “he’s a Texas art aficionado, and the Witte has a renowned collection of Texas art.”
Gorder’s personal style may differ from that of Valero’s founder Bill Greehey? and from Klesse, Marbut said, but “that doesn’t mean the fundamental values of the company will change as it goes from one leader to another. Joe very much represents the culture of Valero.”