- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - No surprise that it takes a Hurricane to survive the storms of the oil and gas industry.

Bob West arrived from Oklahoma City to play football for the University of Tulsa nearly six decades ago. He is still here as CEO of fast-growing oil field service firm Anchor Drilling Fluids USA Inc.

West is what good friend and retired Williams Co. CEO Keith Bailey called a “serial entrepreneur.” He has run an oil field trucking company, RC Cola distributorship and the company that makes the so-called “mud” that keeps drill bits going and bore holes operational.

And despite selling Anchor Drilling Fluids to a new owner earlier this year, West has no plans to stop working anytime soon, the Tulsa World reported (http://bit.ly/1ylWKij ).

“I’ve flunked retirement twice,” he joked. “As long as I’m having fun, which we do, we don’t have any reason to quit.”

“We” is West and his son, Phil, who is Anchor’s president. They have worked together since buying the company in 2005 for $25 million.

“We had 60 employees and $28 million in annual revenues when we bought it,” Bob West said. “Today we’re at about 700 employees and $420 million in annual revenues.”

West never started out to be a businessman. He was a standout OKC John Marshall football player whose father, Harry, was the school principal and who thought he might become a coach and teacher himself.

Back then the NCAA allowed college football players to hold summer jobs, so West worked as an oil field roughneck and drove pumper trucks while off-duty from the University of Tulsa gridiron. He graduated, decided coaching wasn’t his calling and instead went to work in New Orleans as a drilling mud engineer.

West returned to Tulsa in 1968 after several years working offshore. He bought an Oklahoma City oil field trucking company in 1973, shortly before the Arab oil embargo elevated crude oil prices forever.

“That was the rabbit’s foot - the embargo,” he noted. “There were barely 60 rigs in Oklahoma around 1973-74. When I sold that trucking company in 1982, there was about 800 rigs.”

West admitted he has had good luck in business. His trucking company held a lot of debt, and he sold it just before the Penn Square Savings and Loan collapse, which would have driven up the cost of his leverage.

“I didn’t sell that company because I thought it would go down,” he remembered. “I sold it because I was tired.”

He ran several businesses in the intervening 20 years. Meanwhile his son, Phil, had grown up, graduated and worked for Williams as a pipeline engineer.

One day, Phil asked his dad if they could do a venture together. The pair teamed with private equity firm American Capital Strategies and bought Anchor for $25 million.

“How many people get to be with their son every day,” he said. “I was gone for the first 20 years and I’m making it up now.”

Three years later, another equity firm, New York-based Castle Harlan, paid $250 million for its stake in Anchor. The Wests stayed in charge throughout various moves, culminating with the sale to Calumet Specialty Products Partners earlier this year.

“This is very exciting to be with someone like Calumet,” Bob West said. “They understand the business a lot better” than private equity firms, which invest with the idea of eventually cashing out.

“The main thing we wanted to do with this sale was make it so Anchor had a good home for the employees,” he added. “Anchor will be here a long time.”

West’s longtime friend Bailey said his strongest attribute is that he is a “people person” who is someone to believe in.

“It has a bearing on the businesses he’s in because there’s a lot of trust involved,” Bailey said. “Bob is easy to trust, and you know he’s going to do what he said he’s going to do.”

One thing Bailey kidded that West can’t do is change a tire. The friendly dig goes back to a Turner Turnpike trip they took with their wives years ago when West’s car got a flat.

“He didn’t know where the jack was,” Bailey said.

Luckily a Phillips 66 station was nearby on the other side of the turnpike. Bailey, who had guided Williams’ own massive fiber optic asset sale that same week, jumped the lane barrier and got the tools to change the flat.

West knew exactly what to say.

“Bob said I can get a ‘$2.5 billion deal guy’ to change my tire,” Bailey recalled.

Anchor and the Wests have been making plenty of their own deals in recent years. In addition to the Calumet transaction, two years ago Anchor bought an Ohio firm that grinds barite used as a component in drilling mud.

“It made a lot of sense,” Bob West said. “I’ve been in business a long time but never been able to push a button and barite appears.”

Bailey acknowledged that West has turned plenty of deals in the past, but mostly applauded his friend for his philanthropic efforts. West has given plenty of financial support to John Marshall High School, the University of Tulsa and in the fight against cancer, which claimed his first wife, Sandra, several years ago.

“He cares about what he does,” Bailey said. “People sense that.”

___

Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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