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Founder differences are good for OKC

Oklahoma City's four largest publicly traded energy companies were created by founders with very different personalities. Their differences have created a diversified portfolio of Oklahoma City energy firms.
by Adam Wilmoth Published: April 27, 2012

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.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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