Massive contingency fees, like the estimated $345 million he collected in Pennzoil v. Texaco back in the eighties, have made Joe Jamail America’s richest practicing lawyer. He’s one of the most generous too, having given away some $230 million, and the Jamail name can now be found on everything from the football field and the swim center at the University of Texas at Austin to the plaza in front of Rice University’s public policy school to a Houston skate park.
Though he grew up with a famous father, Ross Perot Jr. quickly established his own identity. When he was 23, he became the first person to circumnavigate the earth in a helicopter. He spent his twenties flying F-4 Phantom jets in the Air Force. In his thirties he created the real estate firm Hillwood, whose massive AllianceTexas project helped transform the I-35 corridor north of Fort Worth.
Drayton McLane grew the grocery business started by his granddad in 1894 into one of the country’s largest. After selling to Walmart in 1991, he bought the Houston Astros, partly because he considered baseball a family game, then secured a beautiful downtown ballpark and the ’Stros’ only National League pennant. Now out of baseball, last year he gave his alma mater, Baylor University, the biggest gift in school history for a new football stadium.
Gerald J. Ford values efficiency, which has served him well in his work: Ford and his skeleton crew of twelve employees buy distressed financial institutions, consolidate and streamline their operations, and sell them to larger banks. A native of Pampa, Ford graduated from Southern Methodist University (the football stadium bears his name).
Everybody learned Ray Davis’s name when he became a co-owner of the Texas Rangers, in 2010, but nobody learned much more because that’s the way Davis likes it. He’s no Mark Cuban. He’s not even former Rangers owner Eddie Chiles, the irascible oil-field services mogul who gave us Mario Mendoza and not much else (excepting his “I’m Mad Too, Eddie!” anti-regulation bumper stickers) in the eighties.
Fayez Sarofim conjures an older Houston, a time in the early sixties when he was an ethnic oddity—a self-described Coptic Egyptian American who managed money for the superrich. He made himself quite comfortable in that role. Famous for steering clients away from Enron, he is now among the largest shareholders of Kinder Morgan and part owner of the Houston Texans—and is known around town by his first name only. Hint to fortune hunters: at 84, he still likes the ladies as much as he likes money.
Bob McNair is the man who brought pro football back to Houston. At the end of 1996, Houston had lost all love for the Oilers, who had announced they were moving to Tennessee for promises of a better stadium and higher ticket sales. After the team relocated, in 1997, McNair—who had just sold Cogen Technologies, a power plant operator and the largest privately owned cogeneration company in the world, to Enron for $1.5 billion—spent $700 million of his personal fortune to bid for the thirty-second expansion team in the NFL.
Sometimes it pays to start at the bottom. Rod Lewis began working for Stampede Energy in 1978 as a gauger—a tough job that required him to keep oil and gas wells running—and in the early eighties he used that experience, plus $13,000, to buy a sluggish well and jump-start its gas flow. Since that time, Lewis, now the CEO of Lewis Energy Group, has become the second-wealthiest person in San Antonio (after Charles Butt).
Tilman Fertitta got his start as a fourteen-year-old working at his father’s Galveston restaurant, Pier 23. After buying Landry’s, a restaurant he’d worked at as a college student, he built an empire that included restaurants, aquariums in Denver and Houston, the San Luis Resort in Galveston, and the Kemah Boardwalk. Next came casinos: in 2005 he bought the Golden Nugget Las Vegas and the Golden Nugget Laughlin, and in 2014 he plans to open an eight-hundred-room Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
With his father having been a geologist, perhaps it is only natural that Timothy Headington took an interest in oil. In 1978 he founded Headington Oil, where he kept a low profile until 2008, when he sold acreage in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale to XTO Energy (now part of Exxon Mobil) and reaped $1.85 billion. Since then, he has invested millions in GK Films with the British producer Graham King and bankrolled movies such as Hugo and The Departed.