As the once proud "Oil Capital of the World," Tulsa's fortunes have historically been in the hands of its Oil Royalty, many of whom played principal roles in laying the economic, cultural and literal foundations of Oklahoma's greatest city.
Along with turning the small town of Tulsa into a bustling metropolis and world renowned oil capital, many from the city's first generation of oil pioneers left abiding monuments to their legacies in the form of art museums, ballets and orchestras, numerous Art Deco buildings, charitable institutions and other contributions to the city's civic infrastructure, as well as expanding their oil businesses into other sectors of industry.
The oil barons of Tulsa's boom in the 1920s have since passed on, but a new generation of black gold bluebloods has risen in their place, some from established dynasties, others as self-made captains of the industry. And in this new "golden era" of the city's oil business, they are now beginning to lay the foundation for their own legacies along the lines of those of Thomas Gilcrease, Waite Phillips, William Skelly and other oil titans of Tulsa's yesterday.
Vast fortunes are still being made in the oil industry, and the more generous are putting these corporate riches to good use in philanthropic pursuits. These new energy moguls are also helping create ways to strengthen the business climate and raise the overall quality of life in Tulsa for future generations.
With the existing groundwork from Tulsa's history as the "Oil Capital of the World," for instance, Dewey F. Bartlett, Jr., president of Keener Oil and Gas believes Oklahoma's greatest city also has the potential be the "Center of the Universe" when it comes to other sources of energy.
"The concepts that have been ingrained in Tulsa's business community are that they understand the concept of risk, and that's been in place since the discovery of the first oil well when this town started," he said.
Bartlett's conviction is that, with the "wealth of technical information" and of educational institutions enjoyed in Tulsa, the city's oil industry "has the ability to segue way into new sources of energy."
Banking on Tulsa
One of the oil titans of Tulsa's today is equal parts nouveau riche and hereditary oil baron.
George Kaiser had the benefit of a family oil business waiting for him when he came of age, but he expanded and diversified an empire that lesser men might have hidden behind or squandered.
Kaiser was born a few years after his family had fled from Nazi Germany and settled in Tulsa, where they started the Kaiser-Francis Oil Company.
As a young man, Kaiser entered the family oil business in 1966 after returning from Harvard, where he earned a bachelor's and master's degree.
Three years later in 1969, the 27-year-old Kaiser assumed sole control of the company. He then went to work at expanding it by buying up struggling oil companies and adding them to his own, and eventually diversified his endeavors into banking, real estate and other energy investments.
In 1990, Kaiser bought the Bank of Oklahoma and is now chairman of the BOK Financial Corporation.
He's also ranked by Forbes magazine as the 80th richest person in the United States with $8.5 billion to his name.
While Kaiser has made quite a name for himself for his massive wealth and expansive business empire, he's also renowned for the philanthropic work done through the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
Kaiser's well-established reputation for shunning attention from the media was confirmed when he declined repeated interview attempts by UTW. However, one need only skim daily news headlines--locally and nationally--for examples of his foundation's contributions.
Kaiser spearheaded efforts that led to the creation of the Tulsa Educare early childhood education center, which services children from low-income families. It was the subject of national attention at its opening two years ago.
Also, Kaiser offered $15 million to match state dollars for a program proposed by Gov. Brad Henry in January that would have guaranteed early childhood education for 3-year-olds, had the proposal survived the state legislature, that is.
He's also known for the millions given to the city for beautification projects and development, particularly matching funds for Vision 2025 endeavors.
Along with other partners, the Kaiser Foundation offered up $100 million to match $600 million in public funding for "The Channels" river development project that was proposed last year, and renewed the offer this year for another river development proposal, this time offering $111 million in private donations and calling for $285 million in public funds (from a possible sales tax which Tulsa County voters might be voting on in the fall).
New Money, Fresh Ideas
Another contributor to that considerable chunk of river development-designated change is SemGroup, whose co-founder, president and CEO is Tom Kivisto.
His name is probably as familiar to readers as Kaiser's, and for the same reasons.
Kivisto isn't an "oil man" in the traditional sense, and didn't build his energy empire on the foundations laid by previous family generations, either, nor is he a native Tulsan.
If Kivisto has a dynasty in his background, it's not in oil, but in basketball.
Ernie Kivisto, his father, coached high school basketball for half a century, and Tom inherited his father's apparent love for the sport and played on his high school team in Illinois.
After that, Kivisto made a name for himself as captain and star player on the University of Kansas basketball team. He was a three-year starter for the Jayhawks from 1971/72 to 73/74, and averaged 7.6 points a game in 1974.
His basketball acumen earned him academic All-American, All-Big 8 and academic All-Big 8 honors at KU, as well as a spot in the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame.
Although he majored in pre-med and psych for his bachelor's degree, and did post-graduate work in the field of urban planning, his first big gig out of the gate was with Koch Oil in Wichita, Kan.
After a decade and a half in that company Kivisto decided to venture out on his own, so he moved to Tulsa with his wife, son and two daughters, and founded his own crude oil marketing outfit in 1993: Eaglwing LP.
After seven years of running Eaglwing, Kivisto decided to super-size his operation. Along with other investors, he launched Seminole Transportation and Gathering--eventually to be called "SemGroup--after hammering out a business plan with the Bank of Oklahoma and borrowing $65 million.
Kivisto folded Eaglwing into SemGroup, and then went on to acquire 45 other companies, with total assets growing from $227.4 million in 2000 to $4.5 billion in 2006.
SemGroup's business is the transportation of oil products from producers to consumers, and deals in crude oil, natural gas, refined products, asphalt and residual fuel, and has operations in North America, Europe and Asia.
The company is included in Forbes magazine's list of "America's Largest Private Companies," having debuted as No. 14 on the list in 2004 and rising to No.5 in 2006.
It won't be able to stay on that list for very long, though, since its days as a private company are at an end.
The company went public on July 17.
While his oil-transporting and marketing empire stretches across the globe, Kivisto is following in the footsteps of Tulsa's traditional oil entrepreneurs by investing his philanthropic efforts right here at home.
Apart from a $10 million gift to his alma mater's football program, Kivisto's adopted home of Tulsa has seen the bulk of the entrepreneur's generosity.
Along with SemGroup's aforementioned contribution to the $111 million in private donations for development of the Arkansas River, the Kivisto Family Foundation and SemGroup each made separate donations of $1.5 million to the Tulsa Ballet.
Kivisto is also a member of the Tulsa Community Foundation and Step Up Tulsa. He also spearheaded fundraising efforts for Project Single Parent, the Alzheimer's Association, Meals on Wheels, the March of Dimes and Multiple Sclerosis, among numerous other charitable organizations.
Drilling for New Sources of Energy
While Kaiser and Kivisto and other modern day oil titans are directing their attentions and resources to strengthening Tulsa's cultural and civic infrastructure, another oilman is focusing his efforts on bolstering the city's economic strength and status as a world-renowned energy producer.
"Tulsa could be the center of the universe when it comes to alternative energy," said Bartlett.
Bartlett comes from an established dynasty, but that heritage isn't limited to the oil industry alone.
Bartlett is named after his father, Dewey F. Bartlett, Sr., who was the second Republican Governor of Oklahoma, having served from 1967 to 1971.
After an unsuccessful bid for reelection, the senior Bartlett won a seat to the U.S. Senate where he served from 1973 until he passed away in 1979 in his adopted home of Tulsa.
Originally from Marietta, Ohio, Bartlett had moved to Tulsa after serving in the Marine Corps during World War II as a dive-bomber pilot in the South Pacific Theater.
Following the war, he held a variety of jobs in farming and ranching, as well as in the oil industry, where he remained after assuming ownership and management of Keener Oil and Gas Company from his father, David A. Bartlett.
With his death in 1979, ownership of the company passed to his three children: Dewey Jr., Michael and Joan.
The company was eventually restructured and its various properties divided between the three, with Dewey retaining Keener Oil and Gas.
Today, Bartlett said his company is moving in a direction that makes it both more productive and more environmentally friendly than in his father and grandfather's days.
Under traditional drilling procedures, only about 30 percent of the oil is drawn out of the ground, the rest remaining in the rock "like water in a sponge."
With newer techniques utilizing carbon dioxide, though, Bartlett said the physical characteristics of the oil are altered, making it less viscous and enabling drillers to draw 10-20 percent more out of the ground, as well entirely avoiding any environmental pollution.
As the third-generation owner of Keener Oil, Bartlett is not only continuing his family's history of oil exploration and production, but he also wants to help Tulsa to explore its own role in tomorrow's energy industry.
"Tulsa has a lot of serious opportunities ahead of it, and that has a lot to do with its history--so much started here with implications for the future," he said.
"Why doesn't Tulsa make a concerted effort to make Tulsa the educational capital of the world when it comes to energy?" he said. "Nobody else is doing it to any great degree."
Bartlett said he's been discussing this issue with the heads of Tulsa's various institutes of higher education, which "already create world-class geologists" and other specialists for the oil industry, but he said branching out into other areas of study dealing with alternative forms of energy would require the restructuring of academic departments and the redefining of budgets.
"They're the world's worst when it comes to getting them to make those kinds of changes," said Bartlett, "but the opportunity that presents itself overrides those concerns."
Bartlett said, however, that if Tulsa's business community made commitments to taking the city in that direction in the forms of grants and scholarships for studying alternative forms of energy, then the academic institutions would have the incentive to make those changes.
According to Bartlett's vision, the oil barons of Tulsa's past and present would in the future include wind, water, solar and biofuel barons.
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