By Gary McWilliams
HOUSTON (Reuters) – Raymond Plank, who started oil and gas producer Apache Corp in 1954 with two friends and built the Houston-based company into a global energy company and financial innovator, died on Thursday in Wyoming at 96, his family said.
Plank, a World War Two bomber pilot and graduate of Yale, began as a bookkeeper and tax advisor in Minneapolis helping wealthy investors with tax shelters in the oil and gas business.
Plank’s son Roger said in an interview on Friday his father was picked to run one operation after warning investors they were being fleeced.
The company financed its drilling programme through individual partnerships, but Plank kept looking for ways to make the financing more permanent, Roger Plank said. By 1981, he found a law firm that helped fashion the first publicly-traded partnership, a financing method that has gained wide use.
“He’d just noodle things until he could get them done,” said Roger Plank. The idea took off after Dow Chemical Co agreed in 1982 to sell Apache its U.S. oil exploration business for units in the partnership, he said.
Plank also founded Ucross Foundation, an artist-in-residence programme on a 22,000-acre ranch in Ucross, Wyoming, that also was stitched together from tax shelters, Roger Plank said.
The ranch is best known as the place where Annie Proulx partly wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Shipping News.”
Known for his colourful and sometimes profane descriptions of rivals, Plank would tell investors that Apache was best at exploiting assets that the oil majors abandoned.
“He described us as pigs following cows through the corn field, picking up their leavings,” said Tony Lentini, a former Apache executive. “And behind us were the chickens.”
Plank also was known for proposing “outlandish ideas to get people thinking,” said Lentini. In the 1980s Apache found oil in the western desert of Egypt where there were no pipelines. Plank got the government to start a truck network to move thousands barrels per day to market until a pipeline could be built.
“We remember Raymond as a visionary leader and a strong, passionate and caring man,” said John J. Christmann, Apache’s chief executive. “His leadership, courage, generosity and integrity are central to the core values he instilled at Apache, and they continue to guide us today.”
Plank is survived by six children, twelve grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)