AKRON, Ohio — The president and CEO of scandal-tarnished FirstEnergy has abruptly retired amid the completion of a company-led management review related to the ongoing House Bill 6 investigation.
Steve Strah stepped down from his executive position Thursday after less than two years on the job, with officials not giving a specific reason for his departure or saying if it was in any way related to the review. He will also relinquish his seat on the board of directors.
"It has been a great honor to be part of the FirstEnergy family for more than 38 years," Strah said in a statement. "I want to express my gratitude to the extremely dedicated employees, as well as our incredibly talented management team. I believe the future holds great opportunity for this organization."
Strah added interim CEO to his duties as president in October of 2020 following the ouster of Chuck Jones, who was implicated in the massive bribery scandal that saw the organization illegally funnel tens of millions of dollars to state politicians in an effort to pass HB 6 and bail out FirstEnergy's nuclear power operator (since spun off as Energy Harbor). The federal probe led to the indictment (and eventual expulsion) of then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder along with several other associates, and FirstEnergy later agreed to pay a $230 million fine in exchange for deferred prosecution.
Although he was president at the time news of the misconduct broke, Strah himself has not been charged with a crime or directly implicated in the scandal, and has claimed FirstEnergy has reformed itself since details of the scandal became public. He has publicly called the conduct of those involved in the scheme "wrong and unacceptable," and ended up being named permanent CEO in March of 2021.
The company will conduct a search of "external candidates" to find Strah's permanent successor, but for now, Board Chair John W. Somerhalder will serve as both interim president and CEO. Somerhalder has been with FirstEnergy for the past 18 months and released the following statement today:
"I look forward to working with the company's executive team and dedicated FirstEnergy employees to continue delivering exceptional value to our customers and shareholders. With the Board's continued support, I welcome the opportunity to lead the company during this transition and oversee the continued execution of our strategy to become a more resilient and forward-looking company, positioning the business for long-term stability and success."
FirstEnergy's stock lost more than 1/4 its value in the immediate aftermath of the initial indictments but has since mostly recovered, and the company asserts its 2022 outlook "continues to be strong." The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has also temporarily frozen its investigations of the organization as the Department of Justice's probe continues.