John H. Williams, the long-time executive who turned the company bearing his family's name into a major energy infrastructure company, has died at 94.
Williams, who was CEO for the Williams Cos. Inc. from 1949 until 1979, worked for the original Williams Brothers as early as 1938. He died Wednesday at his home in Linville, N.C., the company said.
“This is a huge loss to many of us personally and certainly for our great company,” Williams CEO Alan Armstrong said. “John's combination of wisdom and courage was extraordinary.
“He has been an inspiration to all who have been lucky enough to know him.”
Williams was part of the “second generation” of Williams family members, with brother Charlie and cousin David, who bought the company in 1949 from founders Dave and Miller Williams.
One of Williams' signature achievements was the company's 1966 purchase of Great Lakes Pipe Line, a substantially larger company than Williams.
The unlikely acquisition, which Barron's likened to a “minnow swallowing a whale,” set Williams on the path to becoming a major operator of energy infrastructure.
The company enjoyed rapid growth and unprecedented success under Williams' guidance. The company's market value increased from $25,000 in 1949 to $406.5 million in 1978.
From 1964 to 1974, Williams' average combined return to investors ranked No. 1 among Fortune 500 companies.
Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association Chairman Bob Sullivan worked for Williams from 1970-1975 and later served with him on the board of Tulsa-based Unit Corp.
He said it was a privilege to work for Williams, who was an oil and natural gas industry icon.
“It was well-documented. He was quite a visionary at that point,” said Sullivan, who now heads his own family business, Sullivan and Co. LLC in Tulsa.
Sullivan said Williams retained his “unmatched” business acumen even in his later years.
“His mind was just as keen then as it was in the early 70s,” he said.
Williams also was a driving force in the redevelopment of downtown Tulsa. The 52-story BOK Tower and adjacent Williams Center Forum, now the Williams Resource Center, are direct results of his vision for the city.