The four children of Dan L. Duncan found themselves thrust onto this list after their father died of a cerebral hemorrhage, in 2010. Duncan, who was the richest man in Houston at the time of his death, was born poor in the East Texas hamlet of Center. He experienced tragedy at age seven, when his brother died of blood poisoning and his mother died of tuberculosis; as a teenager he followed his father’s example and went to work as a roughneck. Later he became an accountant for Wanda Petroleum.
One of H. L. Hunt’s fourteen kids, Ray Hunt inherited a wildcatter’s sense of how to make a play from his dad. So while his half brothers Bunker and Herbert were sitting on silver and going bankrupt in the eighties, Ray was growing H. L.’s original company, Hunt Oil. And now he’s a twenty-first-century global wildcatter, with huge holdings in places like Yemen and Peru.
Charles Butt began sacking groceries at one of his family’s H-E-B stores when he was eight years old, and he’s worked at the supermarket chain ever since. Now chairman and CEO, Butt has built H-E-B into one of the largest private companies in the country, with a revenue of more than $19.4 billion. Not bad, considering his grandmother Florence had to borrow $60 in 1905 to open the grocery in her Kerrville home.
The founder of one of the state’s biggest private banks is also a math whiz who taught himself number theory; in 1993 Andy Beal used his bank’s fifteen computers to work up the Beal Conjecture, a generalization of Fermat’s Last Theorem that made him famous (he has put up a prize of $1 million for anyone who can prove or disprove it). His math skills were also on display when, between 2001 and 2004, he took on sixteen of the world’s best players in a series of very high-stakes games.
Harold Simmons has made a fortune courting controversy. His holding company Contran owns interests in chemicals, metals, waste management, and industrial products; one subsidiary, lead-based paint maker NL Industries, has left a trail of environmental liabilities, while another, Waste Control Specialists, recently backed a plan to store low-level radioactive waste in the Panhandle.
Out of the ashes of Enron came Rich Kinder, a.k.a. Houston’s Mr. Big. When he stepped down as president of the so-called world’s greatest company in 1996 to found a simple pipeline business with his friend William Morgan, only a few understood the colossus to come: a corporation now worth $110 billion, the biggest midstream company of its kind and the third-largest energy company in North America. What brilliance accounts for his success?
The oldest son of an orthodontist father and a stockbroker mother in Houston, Michael Dell applied to take his high school equivalency exam in the third grade. (His parents insisted he stay in the classroom.) In high school, he sold newspaper subscriptions, checking marriage licenses and mortgage applications to target potential customers; when his smart salesmanship earned him more in commissions than his economics teacher’s salary, he used the proceeds to buy an Apple II and took it apart to see how it worked.
In the past five years of recession and slow recovery, Texas has earned a reputation for being a pocket of prosperity. But who is putting that prosperity in his pocket? To find out, we partnered with Forbes Magazine, which published its annual Forbes 400 list earlier this week (see below for an explanation of the Forbes methodology).
After seven months of wrangling and a shareholder vote that was rescheduled three times, Michael Dell has finally prevailed in his $24.9 billion bid to take his namesake company private. Shareholders overwhelmingly approved a buyout proposal by Dell and the private equity firm Silver Lake Partners.