HOUSTON – The CEO of Cheniere Energy may keep his claim to the highest pay package of any energy executive in Houston – at least on paper.
Charif Souki, who is leading Houston-based Cheniere’s transformation from a natural gas importer into an exporter, collected about $142 million last year, according to regulatory documents filed Monday.
That dwarfs his pay the year before, $57.5 million — the largest sum any Houston chief earned in 2012.
Of course, the vast bulk of Souki’s wealth came from stock awards. Last year, his shares in Cheniere amounted to $132 million of his pay. That’s up from $49 million in stock awards the year before.
Still, Souki’s pay far outweighed packages for leaders at companies more than 30 times the size of Cheniere, which was worth $12.4 billion after trading on Monday.
Exxon Mobil Chairman CEO Rex Tillerson, who has led the $437 billion company for nearly a decade, saw his compensation drop by $12.1 million to $28.1 million last year.
And Chevron CEO John Watson’s pay shrank by $8.2 million to $24 million last year, as activist investors have worked to make energy companies pare down top-shelf executive pay.
Cheniere, worth less than a buck a share on the stock market five years ago, lost a multibillion-dollar bet on natural gas import facilities after shale-gas drilling hiked natural gas supplies across the United States.
Now, at the Sabine Pass in Louisiana — the site of its previous failed experiment — the company is in the middle of building its first two facilities that could chill liquefied natural gas into a liquid state for tankers to carry overseas to eager Asian buyers.
Investors expect Cheniere’s $12 billion answer to a changing market to bring in a tidal wave of profits as the company becomes the first in the U.S. to sell liquefied natural gas to countries with which the U.S. does not have free trade agreements — lucrative markets like China and India.
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