Former Nabors chief Eugene Isenberg dies

HOUSTON — Eugene Isenberg, who stepped down from his long-held posts as chairman and CEO of Nabors Industries in 2011, died Sunday at the age of 84.

Isenberg became chairman and chief executive  in 1987, when the company was an Alaska-based driller with 320 employees and was struggling to emerge from bankruptcy. By the time Isenberg stepped down a quarter-century later, he had earned accolades for transforming Nabors into one of the world’s largest onshore drilling contractors with operations in 25 countries.  Nabors now has 29,000 employees.

The company is formally headquartered in Bermuda, but it is largely operated from Houston.

Denny Smith, a spokesman for Nabors, said Isenberg lived in Palm Beach, Fla. at the time of his death. Smith did not provide information on funeral arrangements, saying the family wanted to keep such events small and private. The company did not report a cause of death.

Nabors Chairman and CEO Anthony Petrello described Isenberg as a big brother to him. The two knew each other for more than 35 years. “He had a personal magnetism that made him bigger than life,” Petrello said in an interview with FuelFix.

Petrello called Isenberg the smartest business executive he ever met, adding that he had a knack for seeing every angle when evaluating a financial deal. “He’d understand the transaction from everybody’s point of view,” Petrello said. “He’d always understand why the other guy wanted it and what the other guy thought was important and not important.”

Isenberg had a booming voice and confident manner that Petrello conceded some might have found abrasive.

Petrello recalled, however, that there are dozens of stories within the company about Isenberg helping employees with medical bills or otherwise aiding them.

He said news of Isenberg’s death reverberated throughout the company.

“People had been knowing when he left that he wasn’t feeling well,” Petrello said. “It’s not a total surprise, but when it happens, you still feel a huge loss.”

Isenberg’s career began in 1952 at the company now called Exxon Mobil Corp. He held a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree from Princeton University.

He had served on the board of governors for the National Association of Securities Dealers, the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation and the American Stock Exchange. He also was a member of the National Petroleum Council, an advisory group to the U.S. Secretary of Energy.

Isenberg often ranked high on the annual list of Houston’s top-paid executives, claiming the top spot  three times between 2006 and 2011. In his last full year leading Nabors, Isenberg was the 10th-highest compensated executive, scoring a $13.5 million pay package.

Isenberg is survived by his wife, Ronnie; two daughters, Diane and Lynda; and several grandchildren.