Apache executive believes in giving

March 1, 2007
For Roger Plank, executive vice president and CFO of Houston-based Apache Corp., it was his parents who set the stage for him philosophically.
Roger Plank, Apache Corp.
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For Roger Plank, executive vice president and CFO of Houston-based Apache Corp., it was his parents who set the stage for him philosophically. Both were very involved in outreach activity when he was growing up, and although he didn’t know it was making an impression on him at the time, that is just what happened.

At 84, Plank’s father is still a giving man. Outreach was more important than building a family dynasty, and he was always more involved in “giving it away” than “accumulating it.” This was passed down to him from his father who always said “you oughtta leave this world a little better than you found it.”

In 1981, Plank’s father and Apache started the Wyoming Ucross Foundation. Apache’s big break came in the form of the Recluse field in Recluse, Wyo. This put Apache on the map. At the time “Big Oil” (which Apache wasn’t) had a bad name in Wyoming because it was making discoveries in oil and gas and not returning anything of substance to the community. Apache wanted to give back.

The foundation started in a 150-year-old ranch house that was turned into an artist-in-residence program. The place has gone from a “beat up old ranch house with bat and cow droppings cluttering the floor” to a place where artists appreciate the opportunity they otherwise might not have had. About 10-15 years ago Roger gained a seat on the board of directors. It was a natural fit since he’d been involved since he was a kid.

Today there are 60-plus artists who spend anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks there and are able to pursue their art and passion undeterred by having to earn a living. Plank says, “It gives them a big break and a leg up. There’s nothing like undisturbed time to be able to create something.” The foundation has housed both Pulitzer Prize winners and Tony Award winners.

Plank’s latest efforts have been with the Alley Theatre, a 60-year-old Houston institution. He says he’s met a lot of good people in the city and that the company believes in being “good corporate citizens.” He called the Alley Theatre a “unique and cultural flagship” and something that was a natural fit for him to become involved in.

Plank, 49, did some acting and singing in his younger days. His college group sang the national anthem at Superbowl XIII in Miami. For him, acting was an important part of his upbringing, so when one of the Apache directors mentioned getting involved in the Alley, he jumped at it.

Plank says he’s learned a lot: “The more you can get beyond what you do day to day, the more you grow and the better you’ll be at what you do day to day. I come out and my mind is stretched in ways I never would have imagined.”

He’s also participated in a program called “Funds for Teachers.” It sends hundreds of teachers around the world on a summer sabbatical to pursue something important to them. They break out of their routine and do something they’ve always wanted to do. They come back with a new perspective on their day to day lives, and they’re better teachers for it, he says.

Finally, Plank and Apache have supported a program that started in Egypt called Springboard. Apache finds contributors to donate money to build schools for girls in rural areas. For $15,000 a one-room school is built for 30 girls who otherwise wouldn’t have an education.

Plank witnessed firsthand “girls with dirty dusty clothes and flies buzzing around their heads with huge smiles on their faces because they’re having a school built.” Thus far, 700 girls are getting an education they otherwise wouldn’t.

Apache encourages its employees to get involved in the community. In the end, Plank says, “It’s good business, but you really do these things because they’re the right thing to do. In this day and age, when corporate America appears to have less and less heart, it’s that much more important to prove that you do have heart. Shareholders come first, but you can do that with heart and benefit all involved.”

Mikaila Adams
Associate Editor - OGFJ