Gabriel Kahn writes: In 2006, Bill Miller was about to sell his boss’ cattle ranch, a 500-square-mile high-desert expanse in south-central Wyoming. A buyer was prepared to pay roughly $50 million for it. But something was gnawing at Miller. Every time he visited the place, called the Overland Trail Ranch, the wind there blew so fiercely he had to brace against it just to stay upright.
Miller’s boss, Philip Anschutz, had become one of the richest men in America—with a fortune of nearly $12 billion—by figuring out an abundance of ways to churn wealth out of real estate, from oil wells and railroads to sports arenas and cattle ranches.
Born in the midst of the 1930s oil boom in central Kansas, Anschutz had a wildcatter for a father and a mother who taught history in a one-room schoolhouse. In the early 1960s, when he was just a few years out of college, he bought his father’s oil company and re-named it the Anschutz Corporation. In the 1970s, land he owned in Utah became home to the largest United States oil find since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. In the 1980s, he chased leases on immense tracts of land in a geological formation in the Rockies called the Overthrust Belt, amassing oil-drilling rights on more than 10 million acres. He diversified, buying the Rio Grande railroad, then the Southern Pacific, later merging them, then selling them again.
Today, Anschutz is the largest shareholder in the nation’s biggest movie-theater chain, Regal Entertainment, and owns the film company Walden Media (they produced the Chronicles of Narnia movies and The Giver). The Anschutz Entertainment Group owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a minority stake in the Lakers. It also owns the Staples Center, the complex where both teams play, along with dozens of other big-city venues. Anschutz owns a company that runs the hotels and concessions in major U.S. National Parks. In the past decade, he has expanded his media holdings to include the Weekly Standard, which he purchased from Rupert Murdoch, and the Washington Examiner, both of which toe a conservative political line. He donates millions to charity every year.
Though Anschutz’s collection of properties is eclectic, his approach to business is straightforward. “Mr. Anschutz’s view of the world,” explains Miller, “is that the basis for all wealth and all opportunity is land.” This year, Anschutz co-authored a book titled Out Where the West Begins, about pioneering businessmen, many of whom also made their fortunes off the land by trapping, trading, mining, or ranching.
One morning in 2006, as Miller stood on the barren bluffs of the Overland Trail Ranch, thinking about the sale of the property, he sensed an opportunity.
Miller was soon sitting in Anschutz’s 24th-floor office, which has a sweeping view of Denver, the high desert, and the Rocky Mountains beyond. The two of them knew that the market for wind energy was growing, and that other oil and gas companies had been poking around Wyoming’s windy corners. “I know we’re trying to sell this ranch,” Miller told his boss, “but we may have something here. So why don’t we peel this orange and see what we get?”
Anschutz, who reads widely about energy markets, seized on the idea at once. Though the pair didn’t realize it at the time, they were about to hatch plans for the largest single onshore wind farm in the world. [Continue reading…]