A few days after Christmas, G. Brint Ryan stood in the lobby of the Hotel Settles, in downtown Big Spring, and watched intently as a flurry of workers hustled around him. He wore a pair of shiny black boots and a mohair jacket, and his youthful face was punctuated by a piercing gaze that seemed to suggest that time was wasting. The workers in the room kept their heads down and avoided eye contact.
Although Ryan, who is 49, had grown up in Big Spring, few locals knew who he was until several years ago. Like so many others raised in the gritty West Texas oil patch, he’d taken what ambition he possessed as a young man and hightailed it out, ending up in Dallas, where he had built one of the most powerful corporate tax consulting firms in the world—called, simply, Ryan. Lo cated on four continents, the company wrangled and litigated more than $1 billion dollars each year in overpaid taxes from local governments for a slate of global Fortune 500 clients, including Walmart, Tyson Foods, and ExxonMobil.
Along the way, Ryan had acquired a high profile, at least in Dallas. Known primarily as an extremely aggressive CEO, he’d also waded into politics, waging a brutal—and ultimately futile—million-dollar campaign for city council in 2009. He spent millions in personal campaign contributions to favored candidates; kept current and former lawmakers (including former comptroller John Sharp) on his payroll; threw fundraisers for his buddy Rick Perry at his $10 million Preston Hollow estate, where the back terrace featured life-size bronze statues of Ryan’s five daughters; and let’s not forget the speeding tickets he received for racing his Lamborghini Gallardo down the Dallas freeways. But Ryan’s greatest impact was through the work of his firm, whose reverse audits routinely yanked hundreds of millions of dollars from the state treasury.
Back in Big Spring, it was a different story. Some locals remembered his family, who had arrived as pioneers in the nineteenth century. But Ryan himself was mostly a mystery, a native son who had been gone 24 years when he showed up in 2006, all but promising to raise the dead. He had just purchased the Hotel Settles, a decrepit landmark whose life and death had more or less coincided with the rise and fall of this once vital “Crossroads of the West.” The fifteen-story art deco hotel had been built in 1930 as a totem to Big Spring’s first oil bonanza. When it was finished, the Settles was hailed as the tallest building between Fort Worth and El Paso, and certainly the most luxurious. It became the cornerstone of local society and a major attraction along the cross-country Bankhead Highway (U.S. 80) and the Texas & Pacific Railroad, with a