The Best of the Texas Century—Business

Chain of the Century

All convenience stores are 7-Elevens—not literally, of course, but just as all colas are Cokes and all tissues are Kleenex, the brand is such an icon that it’s practically synonymous with the product. There are 5,600 or so 7-Eleven locations in the U.S. today, each open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, meaning if you absolutely, positively need a Slurpee or a Big Gulp or a Slim Jim at three in the morning, no problem. That wasn’t quite what the Southland Ice Company of Dallas had in mind in the late twenties when its sixteen ice stores in Oak Cliff began selling milk, eggs, and bread, but as the saying goes, from small things big things one day come. Or to put it another way: Oh, thank heaven. Runner-up: San Antonio–based H-E-B, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla of Texas grocers, with 266 locations in the U.S. and Mexico, including three Central Markets—the most talked-about supermarket concept in the country. Evan Smith

Salesman of the Century

Barely in her twenties, newly divorced, with three children to support, Mary Kay Ash went to work for Stanley Home Products in Dallas, selling household goods at “home” parties. A little more than ten years later she was named the national sales director for World Gifts, another direct-sales company in Dallas. By the end of 1963, she had quit her job after a male assistant she had trained was promoted ahead of her at twice the salary. So it was, at the age of 45, that she decided to form her own company—for women. Today Mary Kay Inc. is in the pink, the number two direct seller of beauty products behind Avon. Back in the sixties, Ash built her company to appeal to a woman’s sense of femininity and emerging independence. As the world has changed, so has she. Her sales force now includes men; she’s gone global, with 500,000 beauty consultants in the U.S. and another 28 countries; and no longer is the pink Cadillac the sole symbol of success among the men and women who sell her products—her fleet includes a red Grand Am and a white Jimmy. Runner-up: Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, San Antonio’s can-do car dealer, radio station mogul, and pro-sports team owner. Jane Dure

Wildcatter of the Century

Wildcatting has been responsible for almost every major discovery of oil in the United States, and Hugh Roy Cullen took it to a new level: deeper. Most of his major finds were properties abandoned by the big oil companies—including his first strike, Pierce Junction, a field southwest of Houston that was riddled with 52 dry holes in 1921, when he first drilled it. By the start of World War II, he was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Runners-up: The Moncriefs of Fort Worth, who’ve wildcatted around the country for three generations. Jane Dure

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Lawyer of the Century

When Joe Jamail won an $11.2 billion jury verdict against Texaco for his client, Pennzoil, in 1985, the plaintiffs lawyer from Houston officially became larger than life. But he won that case and so many others by humanizing concepts as nominally intimidating as “tortious interference with contractual relations” and reminding businessfolks that a handshake really does mean something. And he is decidedly human himself: Despite securing more than two hundred verdicts and settlements in the neighborhood of $13 billion, he counts among his proudest achievements a summary judgment over McCarthyite attack dog Roy Cohn (“I sent his ass back to New York in tatters”) and the fact that a group portrait hanging outside the Joseph D. Jamail Center for Legal Research at the University of Texas shows him holding a highball. Runner-up: Leon Jaworski, who prosecuted Nazi war criminals, a segregationist Southern governor, and a lying U.S. president. John Spong

Millionaire of the Century

In the heady days of the state’s first oil boom, when the entire world, it seemed, was rushing to Texas to get rich, John Henry Kirby of Houston made the biggest deal anyone had ever seen. The onetime Woodville lawyer put together vast tracts of pine forest north of Beaumont, sold it to the brand-new Houston Oil Company, kept the timber, and organized the Kirby Lumber Company to cut it down. At its creation, his lumber company was the largest in the world, capitalized at $10 million, and on July 8, 1901, the day after it was chartered, giant headlines shouted out the news. But wealth and fame proved fleeting. Kirby was plagued by litigation and debt, bankrupted by the Depression, and reduced in the later years of his life to traveling the country to denounce the New Deal. His name is attached today to one of Houston’s busiest streets, but how many motorists know of the man who was Texas’ first industrial multimillionaire? Runner-up: Nolan Ryan, the first baseball player to earn $1 million a year—and one of the few who has been worth it. Paul Burka

Billionaire of the Century

It’s easy to forget, but before he was caricatured as a cranky kook, H. Ross Perot was admired for his business savvy. Before he even turned forty, in fact, he was a billionaire. Within a year after the company he founded, Electronic Data Systems, went public, shares were selling for $160; Perot owned nearly 9.5 million, putting his value at more than $1.5 billion, leading Fortune magazine to dub him the “fastest, richest Texan ever.” He remained so until the nineties, when the high-tech boom fattened the ranks of the billionaires’ club; according to the Forbes 400, Perot’s net worth is $3.8 billion today—a good distance from number one Michael Dell’s $20 billion, but more than enough to run for president until his dying day. Runner-up: Dell, who’s richer than numbers two through seven combined on the Forbes list of the richest Texans. Evan Smith

Merger King of the Century

The urge to merge has always been part of American business, but before James Ling came along in the sixties, the typical deal involved a large company taking over a smaller one. Ling started with

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