Bloomberg Law
June 19, 2020, 6:52 PM

Valero Energy Vaults General Counsel Into CFO Role

Brian Baxter
Brian Baxter

Valero Energy Corp., one of the world’s largest oil refiners, will promote its top lawyer July 15 to chief financial officer.

Jason Fraser, a legal department veteran at Valero, will succeed CFO Donna Titzman once she retires next month, the San Antonio-based company said Friday.

Titzman joined Valero as an accountant in 1986 and has served as CFO since May 2018. Valero said Richard Walsh, vice president and deputy general counsel for litigation and regulatory law, will take over as general counsel from Fraser, who’s served in that role since January 2019.

Valero is the latest in a string of energy companies to announce changes in its law department leadership amid economic turmoil in the oil and gas space. Valero also isn’t alone in promoting its top lawyer to financial chief.

Vantage Drilling International announced May 15 its promotion of general counsel, chief compliance officer, and corporate secretary Douglas Stewart Jr. to CFO. Stewart now holds all four titles at Vantage, which in 2019 paid him nearly $1.8 million in total compensation, most of that sum in cash. Stewart has been Vantage’s top lawyer since June 2016, the same year the Houston-based offshore drilling contractor emerged from Chapter 11 protection.

Bloomberg Law reported that Fraser received more than $5.5 million in total compensation—including $1.3 million in cash—from Valero in 2019.

Oil Industry Woes

Within the past few months, major U.S. oil and gas companies have been adapting to adverse economic conditions caused by the coronavirus crisis. Top refiners like Valero lowered their rates due to a drop in demand for gasoline and aviation fuel. Plunging oil prices were affecting the bottom lines of many operating in the U.S. oil and gas sector even before the pandemic.

Fraser acknowledged the challenges facing the company.

“The capital discipline that has been a constant in Valero’s strategy, including the prudent management of our strong balance sheet and delivering on our commitment to stockholders, will remain an uncompromising priority while we proactively address the uncertainties that we face in the current environment,” he said in a statement announcing his promotion.

Fraser is a former U.S. Army soldier-turned-Harvard Law School graduate. He began his legal career at Texas-based law firms Jackson Walker and Kelly Hart & Hallman before going in-house at Valero in 1999.

Fraser has held a variety of executive roles at the company, including as a deputy general counsel, vice president of specialty products marketing, and vice president for Europe. Before becoming general counsel last year, he handled public policy, strategy, and external communications at Valero, which owns refineries in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

Valero itself has several other lawyers in its management ranks, including corporate secretary J. Stephen Gilbert and former Fulbright & Jaworski associate Eric Fisher, now senior vice president for wholesale marketing and international commercial operations. Senior vice president of human resources Julia Rendon Reinhart is a former labor and employment partner at Bracewell.

Bracewell has handled roughly 12% of Valero’s U.S. litigation caseload within the past five years, according to Bloomberg Law data.

More Energy Moves

Other notable comings-and-goings in the in-house energy arena include:

  • Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based Essential Utilities Inc. announced June 16 its hire of Michael Turzai as general counsel for its Pittsburgh-based Peoples natural gas utility unit. Turzai spent 10 terms in Pennsylvania’s legislature, three of them as speaker of the House, and was of counsel at Pittsburgh-based Houston Harbaugh. Turzai will report to Essential Utilities’ general counsel Christopher Luning.
  • Houston-based Bristow Group Inc. and Era Group Inc., two helicopter companies that provide services to the offshore oil and gas industry, completed a merger this month. Bristow said in a June 11 securities filing that Era’s legal chief Crystal Gordon will be general counsel for the combined company and responsible for legal, government relations, compliance, collective bargaining agreements, and contract review and management. Bristow general counsel Victoria Lazar, who joined the legacy company last year, will receive roughly $1.01 million in severance, including $643,500 in cash, according to securities filings.
  • Cambridge, Mass.-based clean energy company Advent Technologies announced June 3 the appointment of James Coffey to its board of directors. Coffey, a corporate finance and transactional expert, had joined Advent two months prior as general counsel and corporate secretary. He recently served as the Boston-based chair of the life sciences practice at Polsinelli, a firm he left a month ago.
  • Gregory Packer, who spent three years as general counsel for Fort Worth, Texas-based Lonestar Resources US Inc., joined Inc. in May as vice president of legal and associate general counsel. Packer is responsible for corporate and securities, corporate governance, and mergers and acquisitions at the privately held genealogy company. Lonestar disclosed Packer’s departure in an April 20 securities filing that noted he left the oil and gas company on “good terms.” He received $897,350 in total compensation from Lonestar last year, according to a proxy statement filed by the company, which has struggled financially.