UPDATE 2-SandRidge ousts CEO Ward, Bennett takes helm
(Adds analyst comments, company background)
June 19 (Reuters) - SandRidge Energy Inc's board of directors removed the energy company's founder and chief executive, Tom Ward, on Wednesday, after a months-long struggle with activist investors who accused him of strategic mistakes and self-dealing at the expense of shareholders.
The board named its president, James Bennett, to replace Ward as CEO, citing a need for new leadership. Jeffrey Serota, a private equity executive at Ares Management, has been named interim nonexecutive chairman of the company.
Ward's termination at SandRidge follows the departure of Aubrey McClendon as chief executive at another Oklahoma City energy company, Chesapeake Energy Corp. The two men, who both faced allegations of governance problems at their companies, founded Chesapeake together in 1989.
The SandRidge board on Wednesday said its four-month probe into allegations of improper related party transactions did not merit a "termination for cause," meaning that Ward will receive a severance package of cash and stock worth more than $90 million.
The company has been under fire since last year from hedge fund TPG-Axon and another activist investor for governance lapses and strategic missteps.
Under a deal reached with TPG-Axon in March, the board agreed to replace Ward by June 30 or give the hedge fund a controlling number of seats.
Shareholders "are probably better-served now that Ward's no longer at the helm. It's going to be a more focused, streamlined SandRidge," said Mark Hanson, an oil and gas company analyst at Morningstar.
Hanson also said he approved of new CEO Bennett and said his background in investment banking and finance could help with a sale of the company.
"He's a sharp guy," Hanson said. "This guy has the chops to lead a sale effort."
TPG-Axon alleged that Ward and the company's board improperly allowed WCT Resources, an Oklahoma company run by Ward's son, Trent, to acquire the rights to drill for oil and gas near SandRidge operations.
SandRidge had said that its board found no wrongdoing in the land deals and that WCT was "an independent oil and gas company."
Shares of SandRidge rose 3.3 percent to $5.25 in after-hours trading.
(Reporting by Anna Driver in Houston and Michael Erman in New York; editing by Gary Hill, Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis)