Williams ( WMB) is finally making a change in its senior executive suite. The troubled energy company -- once a merchant energy powerhouse -- announced Tuesday that longtime CFO Jack McCarthy will retire at the end of the year. The 59-year-old executive has worked at Tulsa-based Williams for 16 years, the past 10 as CFO. During McCarthy's tenure, Williams' stock soared from $5 to $50 -- even after three splits -- before the company's fortunes took a sharp turn south following Enron's bankruptcy last year. Since then, Williams' heavy involvement in the once-sexy energy trading business, made infamous by Enron, has threatened the viability of the entire company. Williams' stock sank to an all-time low of 78 cents in July, during a close brush with bankruptcy, and has since remained below the modest price Williams commanded when McCarthy joined the company in 1986. Williams on Tuesday applauded McCarthy's "significant contributions to the company" and described his retirement as voluntary. But investors, acting slightly skittish, pushed the stock down 4.5% to $2.55 on the retirement news.
Tulsa money manager Fredric E. Russell, often bluntly critical of Williams, expressed little surprise at McCarthy's departure. "If you had to figure out what mark-to-market accounting was -- and define it and explain it every day for a few years -- you'd be fatigued, too," said Russell, whose firm once owned nearly 200,000 shares of Williams. Russell said McCarthy's job is far different from the one he enjoyed even a year ago, when Williams was still an investment-grade company reporting explosive profits from its now-skeletal trading operation. Peter Cohan, a Massachusetts author and investment strategist, read nothing ominous into McCarthy's exit. But Cohan said he also doubts that Williams' headaches will follow the company's veteran CFO out the door.