You don’t have to be Regis Philbin to know that everyone wants to get rich these days, but is Texas a good place to do it? Consider this fun fact: In September 1993, the last time we published “The Texas 100,” a ranking of the hundred richest Texans, H. Ross Perot, Robert H. Dedman, Sr., and at least one of the five Basses (whose combined net worth was $7 billion) were the state’s only billionaires. A scant six years later, when Forbes published its 1999 Forbes 400, a roster of the four hundred richest Americans, 25 of them were Texas billionaires. And they weren’t the only Texans on the list: In the basement of the 400 were another 5 who made the cut despite being mere several-hundred-millionaires.
• Who are these superwealthy Texans? The answer is right there on the page: Michael Dell (worth a measly $240 million in ‘93; today, his $20 billion makes him the fifth-richest person in the world); Perot (nearly $4 billion; take that, Jesse Ventura); each of the five Basses (finally!) and one quasi-Bass, family investment adviser Richard Rainwater; and other dynastic types, like Ray Hunt, who’ve added a ninth zero to their net worth. But there are also names you haven’t heard before, both dot-com (42-year-old Sanjiv Sidhu of Dallas’ i2 Technologies) and not-com (82-year-old Albert Ueltschi of Irving, the founder of FlightSafety International, which has the morbid distinction of being the company that taught JFK Jr. to fly).
• Okay, but how did they get so rich? We put a version of that question—“How do you create wealth in Texas today?”—to ten of the billionaires. Read on for their final answers.
Be the Go-To Guy, And Get Paid by Billie Joe “Red” McCombs
“The way to grow rich is to do better than the guy around you; it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. I was always driven to do better—to be, as we say in sports, the ‘go-to guy.’ I’ve always wanted to be the go-to guy in my little world. I don’t know what drives other people, but recognition is what’s important to me. And once you do better than others, things fall into place….
“I got a lot out of the paper route I had at age ten. On my route I had to throw the paper to the customer, I had to create new customers, and I had to collect every week. You find out who pays you and who doesn’t pay you. You have to think about what you can do to get them to pay you, and you have to make a decision as to when you cut off the deadbeats. It was quite a learning experience. It made an impression on what I’ve done for the rest of my life.”
Billie Joe “Red” McCombs, 72, owns the Minnesota Vikings and several automobile dealerships and co-founded Clear Channel Communications. He lives in San Antonio. Estimated net worth: $2.1 billion.
Be Positive, and Respect the Other Guy by Charles Butt
“There’s an air of optimism in Texas that inspires people to want to try new things. That’s very important to begin with. People feel it’s a place where they can start something small and, hopefully, watch it grow. And there’s generally a positive attitude toward business as a job-creation process that’s good for society and community….
“In a business like ours, someone in a position like mine is perpetually aware that his people are what make it a success. That’s been my focus: trying to find the right folks. We have about fifty thousand people in our company. They are a terrific group. We’re proud of them, and we feel they’re the best….
“Our business is extremely competitive. It has consolidated in recent years, and we compete against the big four in the supermarket industry: Kroger, Albertson’s, Safeway, and Wal-Mart, which is rapidly becoming the nation’s number one grocer. We have to scramble because they have the advantages that size brings. Hopefully we can be more nimble and have a better local touch. The biggest pitfall in business, though, is underestimating the competition. I’ve done it a few times, to my detriment and my regret—but not very often.”
Charles Butt, 62, is the chairman and CEO of H-E-B. He lives in San Antonio. Estimated net worth: $1.2 billion.
Know a Good Idea When You See One by Robert H. Dedman, Sr.
“At twenty-three, I was a partner in a major law firm in Dallas, and I had a superb practice. But I had heard there were only two ways to get rich as a lawyer: One was to get out of law school and marry a rich woman, and the other was to get out of law school, work your tail off for fifty years, and then marry a rich woman. At thirty I stumbled upon my destiny on a golf course in Palm Springs, California. I thought if somebody made a business of running country clubs, they would have an edge over the clubs run by amateurs. I founded ClubCorp when I was thirty-one, and I quit practicing law when I was thirty-eight.”
Robert H. Dedman, Sr., 74, is the founder and chairman of ClubCorp International. He lives in Dallas. Estimated net worth: $1.2 billion.
Don’t Talk Down to People by Joseph D. Jamail
“I don’t invest in start-up companies. I invest my money—which I made in my successful law practice—in stocks and municipal bonds; that’s where the billion-plus comes from. I’m kind of wild-eyed except on economics. I’ve been pretty conservative about that….
“My strongest suit in making the life that I’ve had is understanding people. You can’t fool anyone; I can’t, and I never saw anybody who could. You just talk to people on a level that’s higher than their level, and they’ll reach up to grab the thread of whatever you’re trying to tell them. In the courtroom I never talk down to a jury. You talk down to a jury, it’s over. I’ve seen country bumpkins