Apache founder and former CEO Raymand Plank dies at 96

Raymond Plank, who started oil and gas producer Apache Corp in 1954 with two friends and built the Houston-based company into a global energy company and financial innovator, died on Thursday in Wyoming at 96.

His family said. Plank, a World War Two bomber pilot and graduate of Yale, began as a bookkeeper and tax advisor in Minneapolis helping wealthy investors with tax shelters in the oil and gas business. Plank served as a bomber pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Plank’s son Roger said in an interview on Friday his father was picked to run one operation after warning investors they were being fleeced. Roger Plank, currently founder and CEO of Apex International Energy, confirmed his father’s death. Born in 1922.

The company financed its drilling program through individual partnerships, but Plank kept looking for ways to make the financing more permanent, Roger Plank said. By 1981, he found a law firm that helped fashion the first publicly-traded partnership, a financing method that has gained wide use.

A native of Minneapolis, Plank founded an accounting and tax service in that city. Looking for a more permanent financing mechanism, Plank, in 1981, worked with a law firm to pioneer the first publicly-traded partnership, better known as a master limited partnership (MLP).

“He’d just noodle things until he could get them done,” said Roger Plank. The idea took off after Dow Chemical Co agreed in 1982 to sell Apache its U.S. oil exploration business for units in the partnership, he said.

Plank retired as Apache’s chairman in 2009, at age 86. In his retirement and later years, he worked with the Ucross Foundation, which he founded in 1981. Plank also founded Ucross Foundation, an artist-in-residence program on a 22,000-acre ranch in Ucross, Wyoming, that also was stitched together from tax shelters.

Roger Plank said. Apache entered a period of major expansion, as Plank guided the firm into acquiring properties in major plays, including the North Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Egypt and Australia.

The ranch is best known as the place where Annie Proulx partly wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Shipping News.” Known for his colorful and sometimes profane descriptions of rivals, Plank would tell investors that Apache was best at exploiting assets that the oil majors abandoned.

“He described us as pigs following cows through the corn field, picking up their leavings,” said Tony Lentini, a former Apache executive. “And behind us were the chickens.

”Plank also was known for proposing “outlandish ideas to get people thinking,” said Lentini. In the 1980s Apache found oil in the western desert of Egypt where there were no pipelines.

Plank got the government to start a truck network to move thousands barrels per day to market until a pipeline could be built. “We remember Raymond as a visionary leader and a strong, passionate and caring man,” said John J. Christmann, Apache’s chief executive.

“His leadership, courage, generosity and integrity are central to the core values he instilled at Apache, and they continue to guide us today.” Plank is survived by six children, twelve grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.

Raymond N. Plank, a World War II bomber pilot who watched from the air as a mushroom cloud formed over Nagasaki, then returned to the United States to build Apache Corp. into one of the country’s largest independent oil and gas companies, died Nov. 8 at his home in Ucross, Wyo. He was 96.

Mr. Plank suffered a fall last year and was in declining health, said his son Roger Plank, who confirmed the death but did not know the precise cause. The son of a Twin Cities corn farmer, Mr. Plank knew next to nothing about oil and gas when he founded Apache with two friends and $250,000 of seed money in 1954.

He went on to become a dominant figure in an industry known for its iconoclastic characters a cigar-smoking executive who shot prairie dogs while driving through Wyoming in his Jeep, devised innovative investment vehicles from his offices in Denver and Houston, and traveled the world to monitor drilling sites from the Egyptian desert to the frigid North Sea.

With reported revenue last year of $5.89 billion, Houston-based Apache is dwarfed by multinational giants such as ExxonMobil and BP, which bring in hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

Under Mr. Plank, Apache found a niche through its strategy of “acquire and exploit,” buying up smaller concerns and beefing up their operations, while scouting untapped fields and scouring locations abandoned by the major players.

It “fosters the creative spirit of deeply committed artists and groups by providing uninterrupted time, studio space, living accommodations, and the experience of the majestic High Plains” on a 20,000-acre working ranch in northeastern Wyoming.

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