Oklahoma City's four largest publicly traded energy companies have four dramatically different styles and methods of operating.
Corporations take on the persona of their founders, and the founders of four energy giants here are very different.
Devon Energy Corp. was founded in 1971 by John Nichols and his son J. Larry Nichols. John was an accountant who began in the business as an auditor for local oil companies. Larry earned a geology degree from Princeton and a law degree from the University of Michigan.
Throughout its history, Devon has operated conservatively. While it has taken on debt to gobble up other companies, each time it quickly trimmed its leverage.
When the company announced plans for its billion-dollar skyscraper, Larry Nichols boasted that the building was already paid for.
Three years later, the company has $7.5 billion in cash, allowing it to ride the current wave of devastatingly low natural gas prices.
Continental Resources Inc.'s Harold Hamm is an Enid wildcatter. He started in the oil business just out of high school when he bought a truck and began an oil field service company. He drilled his first well when he was 26 — also in 1971.
A wildcatter at heart, Hamm set his company's sights on oil long before crude was the trend. He ignored critics and followed his hunch that domestic oil for many decades would still be critical to the American economy.
While the oil and natural gas industry is inherently risky, Devon and Continental — and their founders — survived the 1980s bust and carry with them a certain degree of caution. Both companies prefer to move slowly, dependent largely on free cash flow.
The other two Oklahoma City big energy CEOs — Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s Aubrey McClendon and SandRidge Energy Inc.'s Tom Ward — cofounded Chesapeake and were business partners for many years.
Both graduated from college in 1981 and entered the oil and natural gas industry as land managers, acquiring property from companies that went under in the bust.
McClendon and Ward have similar high-risk tolerances and a desire to make every dollar accomplish all that it can.
They seem unhappy with cash in the bank at low interest rates when those dollars could be borrowed at low cost and invested in higher potential — and often high risk — drilling projects.
One major difference between McClendon and Ward — and the companies they lead — is that McClendon is outgoing and energetic, a national spokesman for natural gas and for Oklahoma City.
Ward, however, is quieter with a humble persona, waiting patiently, expecting the dust to settle and for history to prove him right.
The differences among the four companies are good for Oklahoma City.
They are good for current and potential employees of all four companies. If things don't work out for an employee downtown, a better fit may be across town, or vice versa.
The differences are good for civic and charitable organizations because, while one company may choose to support one city project or one cause, another company may have a different focus.
The difference is good for city and state coffers because, while one company may be struggling, another may be growing.
Diversification is as important for a city as it is for a stock portfolio.
Oklahoma City holds about as broad a spread as you can find among independent oil and natural gas producers.