Apache Founder Retires after 5 Decades of Service

Founder and Chairman Raymond Plank, 86, retired today after five decades of building the company into one of the nation's larger and highly respected oil and gas independents. G. Steven Farris, 60, Apache's president, chief executive officer and chief operating officer since 2002, succeeds Plank as chairman.

Commenting on Plank's departure, Farris said, "Raymond Plank is Apache. His commitment and drive are embedded in the fabric of Apache's culture. He has been a mentor, a friend and a confidant over 20 years together. That won't change as we maintain close contact and continue to build on what he has accomplished, making Apache all it can be."

From initial seed capital of $250,000 in 1954, under Plank's leadership Apache's market value has grown to approximately $25 billion. One share of stock purchased at inception now has a basis of four cents after adjustment for splits and stock dividends; that share is worth $73 today, having multiplied 1,700 times.

Known for his frank talk and independent thinking, Plank established a culture at Apache that introduced a number of firsts and forged a unique path. In the 1950s, Plank and Apache pioneered the public drilling program business.

With oil and gas commodity prices regulated at low levels during the 1960s, Plank built Apache into a mini-conglomerate. He later noted, "Sometimes the best way to grow a portion of our oil and gas business was to be out of it; rather than trying to drill through or climb the mountain, we went around it, gaining strength while doing so."

During the 1970s, Apache affiliate Apexco grew as valuable as the entire company, leaving Apache vulnerable to hostile takeovers. Instead of selling its other businesses, Plank sold Apexco and used the added financial muscle to speed the company ahead.

In 1981, the Plank team created the world's first master limited partnership, which provided Apache with valuable acquisition currency with which it gained critical mass during the brutal industry downturn of the 1980s. As the Reagan administration felled the "Evil Russian Empire," the collateral damage wiped out most smaller oil and gas companies.

As other independents retreated to the United States in the late 1980s, Plank steered Apache into the international arena to access larger reserve targets. Today, Apache has a well-balanced portfolio of assets and opportunities beyond U.S. borders.

In the early 1990s, Apache fine-tuned its "acquisition and exploitation" strategy. Describing the company's characteristic approach of squeezing value out of properties acquired from larger companies, Plank told The Wall Street Journal, "We're a bit like pigs following cows through a cornfield. The scraps are pretty good for a company with our particular strategy."

More recently, Plank has been determined and vigilant in fortifying Apache's financial strength. Avoiding industry trends such as share repurchases and acquisitions at peak prices, Apache under Plank's leadership opted instead to pay down debt and build cash balances in preparation for the resumption of growth through increased acquisition, exploration and exploitation activity.

"It's been a great run," Plank said. "I leave Apache with cash on hand, debt under 20 percent of capitalization, quality properties, operations diversified across five continents, and motivated, capable personnel who have grown with the company.

"Steve's and my friendship and mutual respect will continue to be lifelong," he said. "From a separate, nearby office, I'll be at hand to assist with the health of our company."

Plank's strong values and distinctive personality will forever be imprinted on the company he founded and built, Farris said. Inscribed on a fountain outside the company's Houston headquarters, are words that have characterized Plank and Apache since he first spoke them in 1964: "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."