In Texas, business and innovation move in two directions: people come here to turn their big dreams into real things, and people who are from here export their brilliant ideas to the rest of the world. And no, it’s not just about oil (though, of course, a lot of it is about oil). Technology, construction, cosmetics, jewelry, medical advances—Texas has a hand in pretty much any field you can think of. And that two-way traffic shows no signs of slowing down.
The Aspiring World Leader
H. Ross Perot
The Dallas billionaire tech entrepreneur’s Texarkana accent was the butt of late-night jokes, but the populist frustrations he tapped into during his two presidential campaigns were no laughing matter.
Another Dallas billionaire, minted by the late-nineties dot-com boom, the Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star has flirted with political ambitions and launched a company aimed at lowering prescription drug prices.
T. Boone Pickens
The Oklahoman turned Texan shook up Big Oil by launching unsolicited bids to take over large companies and advocating for shareholder rights. His folksy manner won him fans—just not in the executive suites.
The South African turned Californian turned Texan disrupts industries seemingly for breakfast: automobiles, energy, aerospace. And now that he’s taken over Twitter, he can infuriate millions on a daily basis.
Generations of this family have donated much of their oil-derived wealth to national institutions, such as Yale University. Closer to home, they helped subsidize the revitalization of downtown Fort Worth.
John and Laura Arnold
The Houston power couple upped the ante on Texas philanthropy by using their billions to fight Big Pharma price gouging, champion birth control access, and push to end predatory lending in higher education.
He built his Dallas company into arguably the first nationwide real-estate development firm, reshaping downtown skylines across the country and setting the stage for the gleaming urban landscape Texans now inhabit.
The CEO of the Austin-based printed-housing company Icon describes his giant construction robots as tools for lifting people out of the global housing crisis by making homes quicker to build and more resilient.
The Lifestyle Entrepreneur
Mary Kay Ash
The Dallas cosmetics and multilevel-marketing pioneer turned the Tupperware house-party concept into indulgent neighborhood beauty bashes and raised an army of salespeople in pink Cadillacs.
Chip and Joanna Gaines
The odd-couple home renovators made Waco a retail destination, then transitioned into full-fledged moguls with a line of home goods, best-selling books, and their own cable channel.
This boom-and-bust Texan bet everything during Houston’s go-go seventies, expanding his family’s eponymous department store chain and taking on piles of debt—only to crash alongside the oil market in the eighties.
The Austin transplant bootstrapped her jewelry business into a busy e-commerce site and more than a hundred stores by catering to middle-class customers typically sniffed at by the coastal fashion elite.
The Showboat Lawyer
Richard “Racehorse” Haynes
Beginning with his defense of a River Oaks surgeon accused of poisoning his wife with an éclair, this Houstonian originated the role of the flamboyant Texas criminal defense attorney.
Thomas J. Henry
Today’s best-known Texas lawyers advertise their prowess in winning multimillion-dollar suits. San Antonio–based Henry used that formula to build the self-proclaimed largest personal-injury firm in the state.
The Medical Innovator
Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley
Their decades-long feud overshadowed the fact that the combined work of two Houston surgeons resulted in the world’s first successful implantation of a totally artificial heart.
James P. Allison
This MD Anderson iconoclast pioneered a new means of fighting cancer by unleashing the body’s immune system. He won the Nobel Prize—and got to play harmonica with Willie Nelson.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Icons, Then and Now.” Subscribe today.
Image credits: Perot: Ron Heflin/AP; Cuban: Andrew Eccles/ABC/Getty; Pickens: Mary Altaffer/AP; Musk: Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty; Basses: Fort Worth Star-Telegram/AP; Arnold: Peter Yang; Crow: The Dallas Morning News/AP; Ballard: Diego Donamaria/Getty; Ash: Graham Bezant/Toronto Star/Getty; Gaines: Brian Ach/Invision/AP; Sakowitz: John Olson/Getty; Scott: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic/Getty; Haynes: WBAP-TV/NBC5/KXAS-TV/University of North Texas Libraries/The Portal to Texas History; Henry: Johnny Nunez/Getty; DeBakey: AP; Cooley: Donald Uhrbrock/Getty; Allison: Christoph Schmidt/AP