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Continental's Hamm makes it clear he is stepping down, not stepping aside

Harold Hamm may be stepping down as CEO of Continental Resources Inc., but he made it clear during a Dec. 12 conference call that he will still have a key role in the direction of the company.

Hamm chose his 74th birthday Dec. 11 to announce he would step down as chief executive of the company he founded, effective Jan. 1, 2020. He will fill the newly created role of executive chairman as board member William Berry takes over as CEO.

Hamm said he is not leaving his position as the company's leading decision-maker behind.

"While Bill will assume all the roles of our CEO, including continuing to drive our operational excellence and strategic direction, he and I will both also focus on strategic and global initiatives," Hamm said. "We will be moving in lockstep step together along with [President] Jack [Stark] and the rest of the team."

Hamm said Berry had been an asset during his five years on Continental's board and described the CEO-designate as a "personal confidant."

"He has been a trusted adviser and has helped guide our executive team towards success," Hamm said. "Bill is the right person for the job and embodies the principles on which Continental was founded."

Hamm said Continental would not change its objectives once he steps down as CEO. One of the most important goals for the company would be to export as much crude oil as possible to increase profits, he said.

"As our infrastructure continues to be built out here in America, realizing world prices becomes ever more important, particularly with a margin of profits being where they're at today. You need to maximize every dollar," Hamm said. "So if we're getting better price for a product and can achieve more of the world market price, that means a great deal."

Berry said he was in agreement with the company's wider strategy of keeping costs in check and increasing production while improving shareholder returns.

"I don't think you're going to see much strategy difference from what we've been doing," Berry said. "The driver of our performance has always been a low-cost operation and just absolute rigor on capital efficiency, and those are going to continue."

Even though Hamm and Berry both emphasized fiscal discipline and shareholder value in their comments, they also made it clear that the wildcatter mentality had not entirely left Continental.

"This is a really strong company that was built on exploration, and it's got some really, really good talent in the exploration space," Berry said. "I think you will see exploration continuing to play the significant role that it always has for this company."