When Clayton Williams ran for governor in 1990, he made an offhand remark so famous it should appear on his tombstone—though, of course, he’d never allow it. It was a rainy day in March, and the press had gathered at his ranch outside Midland to watch some cattle roping. When one of his hands mentioned to him that the reporters were getting restless, good ol’ boy Williams tried to make light of the situation by comparing bad weather to rape: “If it’s inevitable,” he said, “just relax and enjoy it.” After that comment appeared in print and went on to make national news, Williams’ twenty-point lead over Ann Richards plummeted, and she went on to beat him by a hair.
Even in defeat, however, Williams remained the eternal optimist, choosing to return to the business world rather than retire to his front-porch swing. Today, ten years to the month after he kicked off his quest for office, the 67-year-old presides over a multimillion-dollar empire that includes an oil company, Clayton Williams Energy; a real estate development company, ClayDesta; and 180,000 acres of ranchland, where he runs seven thousand head of cattle and grows cotton.
While he may have been a political neophyte, Williams knew business. A Texas A&M graduate who started out selling life insurance, he parlayed $2,000 in savings into an energy, real estate, banking, and telecommunications conglomerate with $1 billion in revenues, landing him on Forbes magazine’s list of the wealthiest Americans in 1984. After successfully lobbying against a deregulation bill sought by AT&T, he decided to run for governor. He ended up spending $8 million of his own money on his unsuccessful campaign.
The day after the election, he went right back to work, focusing on a hot new technology called horizontal drilling. By 1991, Clayton Williams Energy had become one of the most active horizontal drillers in the country, with 91 producing wells. Williams capitalized on that success by taking the company public in 1993,