2000 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"It is only by sticking to an objective through adversity that a goal can ever be realized."
A Kansas native, Philip Anschutz was born in 1939 in Russell, but he and his family soon moved to Hays, then on to Wichita for the remainder of his youth. His mother, who Anschutz says "was a lady of great grace who taught me to always try to do the right thing," had a certificate from a two-year teachers college. Philip Anschutz describes his father, who had no college education, as a man of "enormous entrepreneurial skill who taught me about taking risks and the advantages to be found in failure."
Unfortunately, the family experienced many business failures. His father was plagued with chronic, debilitating illness, which hampered his business ventures as an oil wildcatter. That, coupled with his lack of higher education, deprived Anschutz's father of the skills necessary to develop a financially stable success. When asked about this difficult time, Anschutz says, "In many ways my father was brilliant and intuitive, but the independent oil business is very risky. One day you're succeeding and the next day you aren't. Most people in that business fail at it."
At the age of 14, Anschutz began working. His mother felt it was important that he earn his own money and at the same time gain work experience. "My mother was a strong person," he says. "She had a strong moral grounding. She greatly valued honesty, religious commitment, and the work ethic." During his teen years Anschutz worked in yard service and was a messenger, a grocery sacker, and a bank teller.
Anschutz says he was a mediocre student until he realized that to make positive changes in his life he was going to have to do it himself. "I came to understand that to be successful you have to get off the bench and onto the field. You cannot be just an observer; you must become an active participant." He attended the University of Kansas, working his way through with summer jobs and waiting tables. After graduating at the top of his class with a degree in finance, Anschutz was set to begin law school at the University of Virginia. He never attended law school, however. His father was having severe health problems and his business was set to enter bankruptcy. At the age of 20, Philip Anschutz became determined to do whatever it took to make life secure for his parents. It was a pivotal time for him.
The challenge set before him in those very early days of adulthood seemed nearly overwhelming, but Anschutz felt he had the skills to be a successful entrepreneur. His skills and determination paid off in less than four years. After making the business both stable and successful, he sold the assets and dissolved the company. With his parents' immediate future secured, Anschutz was free to pursue his own dreams.
Moving to Denver was first on his agenda. In 1965, at the age of 24, he started The Anschutz Corporation and began operations in the oil business. By 1976, he owned oil fields in Montana, Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming. He also bought uranium and coal mines, and cattle ranches. It was his philosophy that he had to have a lot of things going on because not everything would work out. At one point, he drilled 30 dry holes in a row, causing banks to occasionally cut off his credit. Undaunted, Anschutz exercised patience and persevered. "You have to have the ability not to give up or lose confidence in what you are trying to do just because it doesn't work out the first time you try it. You may have to go back and try again, and again, and again. Persistence is one quality you need throughout life, and not only in business. I have seldom achieved anything worthwhile the first time I attempted it. It is only by sticking to an objective through adversity that a goal can ever be realized."
In the late 1970s, Anschutz put his knowledge of new seismic technology to work on prospective lands in northern Utah. His instincts paid off in one of the largest oil discoveries since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. He sold a large part of his find to Mobil Oil and promptly began further diversification out of the oil business into other businesses.
Anschutz says that his business success comes from skills he has developed over the years. "You need the ability to be innovative," he says. "You have to find new ways to think about things. You need leadership skills that allow you to get people to work together toward a common goal. You need some level of intelligence, but I've never considered myself to be the smartest guy. I've surrounded myself with people who are skillful and bright. You need to spend time with yourself to think through what you want to accomplish."Anschutz even says that much of his success is due to the adversity he had in his life. "Adversity is a great thing," he says. "Without it you are never challenged to be creative, to improve yourself. You never know for sure what you can do until you are put in an adversarial position. Overcoming adversity in your life is the best way to develop a skill set that you'll use again and again."
Looking back over his life, Anschutz says, "I've had a lot of failures and made mistakes, and it's important to know that none of these are irreversible in your life. You can fix them. Failure is a part of the game. You've got to have them, and you should do things every day that scare you a little. You've got to take risks, and you've got to make hard decisions-even when you yourself are in doubt. It's not failure, but the fear of failure that stops most people."