Apache Chairman Plank retires

Raymond Plank, founder and longtime chairman of Apache, retired Jan. 15 after 54 years with the firm that he grew from a pioneer public drilling program to one of the largest publicly traded independents in the industry.

Jan 19th, 2009

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Jan. 19 -- Raymond Plank, founder and longtime chairman of Apache Corp., Houston, retired Jan. 15 after 54 years with the firm that he grew from a pioneer public drilling program to one of the largest publicly traded independent oil and gas producers in the industry, with international operations and a market value of $25 billion.

Plank's plain-spoken, in-your-face style as an industry maverick has left its imprint on Apache's corporate culture. When one industry association tabled a proposal calling for an import tax to set a floor for domestic oil in the 1980s, Plank led a floor fight and the subsequent walkout by a large segment of the members to stage a rump-session attended by most of the news reporters who had been covering the convention.

In the mid-1990s, he led a nationwide group of independent producers, state trade organizations, the Independent Producers Association of America, and royalty owners in an effort to secure limited exemption from antitrust laws so natural gas producers could form marketing cooperatives. Plank was a vocal and persistent critic of megamarketers of crude, natural gas, and electricity years before the fall of Enron Corp.

While many independents were satisfied to operate only in the US, Apache in the 1990s became one of the largest leaseholders off Western Australia and a major participant in Egypt.

A graduate of Yale University, Plank never lost the brashness and nerve he exhibited as a bomber pilot in the South Pacific during World War II. He and two partners founded the company in 1954 in Minneapolis, Minn., with $250,000 initial seed capital. Plank won a coin toss to become president of the firm and held that position to 1979. He was chief executive officer of Apache in 1966-2002, and chairman since 1979.

Apache diversified into real estate in 1959 and into agriculture in 1970. It went public in 1969. In 1981 Apache created Apache Petroleum Co., the first US master limited partnership.

The company moved to Denver in 1987 when the industry was in the midst of its greatest depression. In 1988, Apache sold the last of its non-oil and gas subsidiaries, exited the business of managing oil and gas investments, and restructured as a pure exploration and production company.

Its 1991 acquisition of the MW Petroleum Corp. subsidiary from Amoco Corp. for $545 million was a critical event in Apache's history. It doubled the company's size, obtained a position in the Permian basin of West Texas, and shifted the center of Apache's geographical mass to the Gulf Coast, precipitating its move to Houston in 1992. That investment still contributes to Apache's bottom line. But in his characteristic manner, the irascible Plank publicly said he made the move because "this is where the industry is circling its wagons."

Apache today has exploration and production operations in the US, Canada, Egypt, the UK North Sea, Australia, and Argentina. Forbes Magazine named Apache as one of the best managed US companies in 2005 and the most admired company in the oil production category in 2006.

Inscribed on a fountain outside the company's Houston headquarters, is a 1964 quote from Plank: "The capacity of the individual is infinite. Limitations are largely of habit, convention, acceptance of things as they are, fear or lack of self-confidence." G. Steven Farris, Apache's president, chief executive officer, and chief operating officer since 2002, succeeds Plank as chairman. He said, "Raymond Plank is Apache. His commitment and drive are embedded in the fabric of Apache's culture."

Plank will maintain a separate office near Apache headquarters where he will remain available for consultation.

More in General Interest