Is the Leadership of Nuverra Up to the Task of a Turnaround?

At the Fool, we adore two attributes when analyzing management teams. We love companies that are led by a visionary founder, and are borderline ecstatic when those leaders own a big stake in the company. Nuverra Environmental Solutions is led by not one, but two visionary founders, each owning a large stake in the company.

That said, sometimes the founder's vision is a bit blurry, which appears to be the case with Nuverra. Let's take a closer look at the company's leadership, and see if it's up to the task of turning the company around. 

That was then
Nuverra was originally founded by Richard Heckmann, and the company was named after him until recently. The company's merger with Bakken-based Power Fuels marked a changing of the guard in the C-Suite at Nuverra. Founder Richard Heckmann stepped aside from the CEO role, and handed over the reins to Power Fuels founder Mark Johnsrud.

Before we get to him, it's important to know a little background on Richard Heckmann. Before founding the company, he was most well-known for building and selling U.S. Filter. In less than 10 years, he acquired more than 250 water companies, and grew revenue from $17 million to $5 billion before cashing out. He has a similar game plan for his latest venture.

The problem is that Heckmann seems to have lost his golden touch with his latest venture. A water company he bought in China didn't pan out, and sold at a loss. A more recent acquisition of an industrial recycling company is poised to meet a similar fate. The slowdown in gas drilling, combined with these value-destroying acquisitions, has really hit the company's shares hard.

This is now
In turning over the day-to-day operations to Johnsrud, Richard Heckmann is planning to turn his focus solely on building the company. As for Johnsrud, he was the sole owner of Power Fuels, which he acquired in 2005. He built it into the top water-services company in the Bakken in just a few short years.

The deal that brought him to Nuverra included a nice $125 million cash payday, as well as enough shares so that he now controls about a third of the combined company. Those shares should align his interests with investors, as he will reap greater rewards as the company's performance improves.

Joining Johnsrud as a new member of the C-Suite is CFO Jay Parkinson, who came over from Jefferies. While at Jefferies, Parkinson oversaw, among other things, investment banking on Nuverra's behalf, so he's well-versed in the story. Given the acquisitive nature of Nuverra, Parkinson's years of experience as an investment banker will be an asset as the company looks to raise capital in the future.

This is next
The combination of Johnsrud and Parkinson seem to be a much-better team to lead Nuverra forward. There was a lot of talk on the company's conference call about the "legacy Heckmann Corporation," and the fact that Nuverra wanted to "turn the page on legacy issues," as Parkinson put it. So, despite turning in an ugly quarter, and missing expectations most of the year, I think investors are in much better hands now that this new management team has a better idea of what it needs to do now to turn around the business.

The company is proactively looking to expand its business into water recycling thanks to its partnership with Halliburton on H2O going forward. In addition to that, it is focusing more attention on solids disposal now that its landfill is up and running. This new approach could be just what the company needs to turn things around.

Final thoughts
Nuverra looks like it has a solid senior management team to lead it forward. In the near term, its partnership with Halliburton will be a key to unlocking some of its potential. If that deal works out, it could lead to a lot of new business and new customers in the future. That makes 2014 a really important year for the company, as the first frac job with Halliburton begins in the first quarter. If successful, then it will prove that the management team did know what it's doing, and that a turnaround is underway.

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The article Is the Leadership of Nuverra Up to the Task of a Turnaround? originally appeared on

Fool contributor Matt DiLallo owns shares of Nuverra Environmental Solutions. The Motley Fool recommends Halliburton. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nuverra Environmental Solutions and has the following options: long January 2014 $4 calls on Nuverra Environmental Solutions and short January 2014 $3 puts on Nuverra Environmental Solutions. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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