Khanna returns to Economou team but denies Heidmar job

Former DryShips officer is back in the fold but says he will help choose Heidmar's next chief, not lobby for the seat

A name from the past has rejoined the fold of Greek shipowner George Economou — but he denies he is in the running to take over the helm of Connecticut-based pools player Heidmar.

Pankaj Khanna, a former Economou officer with both DryShips and Ocean Rig, has joined up with the owner’s private TMS Management, TradeWinds learned this week.

But while Khanna confirms that role, he is throwing cold water on market chat that he is destined to replace the recently resigned Ben Ognibene as Heidmar’s chief executive.

Khanna also confirms that Economou has appointed him to the Heidmar board of directors within the past two months.

“As we’ve announced, we’re running a CEO search, but I’m not looking to throw my hat in the ring,” Khanna told TradeWinds this week. “I’m part of the team that will be looking to choose the new CEO. Look, anything could happen, but I don’t have any intention to be a candidate in the search.”

Most recently, Khanna spent nearly four years leading Pioneer Marine, the Singapore-based owner of handysize bulkers.

Pioneer announced Khanna’s departure in May without further explanation, at a time when the owner appeared to be improving operating results after a string of quarterly losses.

A connection to Heidmar developed just after DryShips announced in August that it was acquiring the 49% stake previously held by Economou individually.

The transaction came after Economou withdrew support for a full sale of the company to US financial power Fortress Investments. A deal had been tentatively agreed and was in the documentation stages, according to sources close to the transaction.

Financial player Morgan Stanley owns another 49% of Heidmar, while employees own 2%.

Shortly after that announcement, Khanna reportedly spent hours at Heidmar’s offices in Norwalk, Connecticut, triggering speculation that he was preparing to take the reins from Ognibene, sources had told TradeWinds.

Khanna confirms he spent time at Heidmar's headquarters but not for the reasons people might think.

“I was in the office last week to sort out the logistics of the change,” Khanna said. “With Ben leaving, of course there is a vacuum there, and as a board member I spent some time to understand what they’re doing. Maybe people made too much of that, I don’t know.”

Heidmar watchers indeed had been trying to read the tea leaves connected with Khanna potentially being hired.

Some found it unlikely that Morgan Stanley would back Ognibene’s replacement with an Economou disciple unless it had reached an agreement to sell the remaining Heidmar stake to the Greek owner.

TradeWinds understands Economou has offered to do just that, although at an unspecified discount to the price Heidmar would have achieved in the prospective Fortress sale.

The Fortress breakdown followed a year-long tender process conducted by Morgan Stanley’s investment bankers.

Ognibene’s resignation last week, first reported by TradeWinds, fanned the rumour mill further.

Ognibene steps down at Heidmar

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Heidmar says its board has launched a search for a new chief executive and expects to have a replacement "in the near future”.

"The operations of the company will continue as usual with 24/7 commercial coverage from our global offices," the pool manager said. "In the interim, the company will be led by the executive management team, which collectively has close to 120 years of shipping experience, with support from the board."

Khanna has previously served Economou as chief operating officer of DryShips from March 2009 to October 2012.

He also spent 10 months as chief marketing officer for Economou-owned driller Ocean Rig in 2012 before moving to Pioneer.

Khanna said it was too early to talk about exactly how he would serve the Economou organisation in his latest chapter.

“There’s nothing really to talk about,” he said. “I’m working on a few projects and we will see how they pan out. The dry bulk market is improving but the capital markets remain challenged.”