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Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Ex-Chesapeake boss McClendon backs poker-star hedgie

Aubrey McClendon
F. Carter Smith | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Aubrey McClendon is back in the hedge fund game, but this time he's taking a far more indirect approach.

McClendon, the ousted founder of Chesapeake Energy, has led a group of Oklahoma City-area investors in putting money with Caption Partners, a small fund run by two young managers, according to people familiar with the situation.

In 2012, Reuters reported that McClendon, now head of American Energy Partners, had from 2004 to 2008 run a $200 million hedge fund inside of Chesapeake, the second-largest natural-gas producer in the U.S. The outfit, Heritage Management, traded commodities, leading to criticisms of the potential for conflicts of interest between company operations and investments made by the fund.

McClendon was never accused of wrongdoing, but that and other corporate governance issues contributed to his removal as chairman and ultimate departure in April 2013. The Securities and Exchange Commission initially probed McClendon but ultimately took no action.

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Caption, led by 2007 Duke University graduates Jason Strasser and William Cooper, does not bet on commodity markets and instead trades equity optionsmostly technology and consumer companiesin an attempt to profit from volatility, according to people with knowledge of the strategy. It's known as a "Vol Arb" fund in hedge fund industry lingo.

McClendon and other investors "will not be involved in the day-to-day operation and they do not have any voting rights," according to a memo sent by Strasser, 29, and Cooper, 30, to clients on Oct. 1 obtained by

Caption recently moved operations from New York City to Oklahoma City because of the new investment but will keep a trader in New York. Strasser, reached by phone in the new office, would not comment. A spokesman for McClendon also declined.

The McClendon-led group will invest millions of dollars over the next nine months, making it the fund's largest client. The investors will also take a stake in the firm's management company, thereby earning part of the fees generated by Caption, according to the memo.

Caption, launched in 2012 with $3 million, is still tiny by hedge fund standards. The fund managed $6.5 million in February 2014, according to a public filing, and according to the memo, its assets will be "at least" $20 million by the end of 2015 because of the new investors.

McClendon is attempting to come back in a big way after founding American Energy Partners in April 2013. The company has raised about $13 billion in the past 16 months from investors including KKR to buy up natural gas assets, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. McClendon also recently said that he planned to take various units of AEP public.

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 Aubrey McClendon rising like a phoenix?
Aubrey McClendon rising like a phoenix?

Cooper and Strasser both graduated from the undergraduate program at Duke University in 2007. McClendon is also a Duke grad and a major donor to the North Carolina school.

Strasser, Caption's chief investment officer, started his career as an equity derivative trader at Morgan Stanley for four years before joining hedge fund Trafelet & Company as an analyst in 2011. He left to form Caption in early 2012.

Strasser is somewhat of a poker star. He started playing online his freshman year at Duke, according to a 2006 interview, and, according to online poker sites, has won hundreds of thousands of dollars at the World Series of Poker and other live events.

The men have combined Strasser's poker skills with fund marketing. In August he and Cooper hosted a dinner in Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking district that combined a Caption pitch, a poker "teach in" with ranked players like Strasser, and a card tournament, according to an invitation sent to prospective clients.

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