By GRAHAM BOWLEY
The New York Times
April 22, 2007
ONE night here in the late 1960s, around the time that Philip F.
Anschutz began laying the foundations of a multibillion-dollar
fortune, a drilling supervisor at one of his Wyoming oil rigs phoned
him with bad news: The well was on fire. And if the fire kept burning,
it would bankrupt him.
But there was a bright side, Mr. Anschutz reasoned. The fire meant
that he had finally struck oil.
He rented a plane, flew to Wyoming, and by 8 the next morning gambled
more money on his oil venture by buying up land around the burning
well, according to an account that Mr. Anschutz provided to the State
Historical Society of Colorado in 1974. He then hired Red Adair, a
legendary oil-field firefighter, to put out the blaze, and, he said,
invited a Hollywood studio to shoot the episode for the John Wayne
"There's always a point that if you go forward you win, sometimes you
win it all, and if you go back you lose everything," Mr. Anschutz told
the historian, recalling the fires. "That was that point for me."
Today, Mr. Anschutz is one of the wealthiest -- and most secretive --
tycoons in the country, parlaying early oil coups into real estate
paydays, savvy runs at the railroad business, and the creation of
Qwest Communications International, a telephony company that became
mired in an accounting scandal. Last week, Qwest's former chief
executive, Joseph P. Nacchio, was found guilty of federal stock fraud
charges. (Mr. Nacchio plans to appeal the ruling).
While the Qwest debacle bruised Mr. Anschutz's reputation, his
deal-making has not slowed down. In his latest act, he is now the
biggest backer of professional soccer in the United States, having
recruited the British star David Beckham with a five-year, $27.5
million package to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, the
highest-profile of Mr. Anschutz's three soccer teams.
He has also started free newspapers to challenge local media
incumbents like The Washington Post, and he controls America's largest
theater chain - giving him added heft as he pushes into film
production with family-oriented and spiritually themed movies like
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," a
Mr. Anschutz's senior managers say he is confident that he can convert
one of the world's last big non-soccer-crazy nations to the sport,
while also influencing the type of films that Hollywood produces. Amid
the push and shove of the global media whirl, he wants to be an
arbiter of taste, fashion and even moral values.
Acquaintances say Mr. Anschutz's embrace of Hollywood and the media
business amounts to a wholesale reinvention that uses business lessons
first learned in the oil fields. They also describe him as an
authentic visionary and one of the most exciting businessmen of his
generation. His critics, however, are less laudatory, describing him
as overly fond of reckless financial wagers that have helped him
advance hot-button political and social issues.
For his part, Mr. Anschutz declined to be interviewed about his
businesses or his aspirations. But that penchant for privacy may be
tested in the months and years ahead as he draws his corporate goals
and personal values more brightly and publicly on the global skyline.