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.
Dan Friedkin is the chairman and CEO of Gulf States Toyota, the sole Toyota distributor in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Friedkin and his dad (who founded the company) have together donated more than $900,000 to Rick Perry. He garnered unwanted headlines in 2011 when a Federal Election Commission filing revealed that the governor’s presidential campaign had not properly compensated Friedkin’s aviation company for more than $45,000 in flight time on a private jet.
Mark Cuban co-founded the business that made him billions, Broadcast.com, in part so he could listen to college basketball games on the Internet. He sold it, bought the Mavericks, yelled at the refs from the stands with the rest of the fans, and won an NBA championship. Last election season, he started a Twitter brawl when he responded to Donald Trump’s bounties for Obama’s paperwork by putting up $1 million for Trump to shave his head.
David Bonderman is known as a takeover artist. In 1992, when he was running Fort Worth billionaire Robert Bass’s investments, Bass balked at taking over Continental Airlines, which was undergoing its second bankruptcy in a decade. So Bonderman and a colleague struck out on their own, purchasing Continental for $66 million and forming the firm TPG.
The great-uncle of brothers Sid, Ed, Robert, and Lee was the wildcatter Sid Richardson, who, the legend goes, borrowed $40 from his sister during the Depression and hit it rich in the Keystone oil field, west of Odessa. When he died, in 1959, he left a tidy sum to his sister’s son, Perry Bass, an oilman in his own right. Perry grew his inheritance into a vast fortune and groomed his four sons, who all attended Yale, to take over the family business.
It is hard to remember a Houston without John Arnold, who in 2001, at age 27, booked $750 million in profits as a natural gas trader for Enron. Still baby-faced at 39, Arnold has retired from his spectacularly successful energy-based hedge fund, Centaurus Advisors, and with his wife, Laura, now runs a foundation that has so far given away or pledged hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly in education.