Robert V. West Jr., who built Tesoro Petroleum Corp. from a small regional firm into one of the nation’s largest independent oil producers, has died of respiratory failure. He was 85.
West, who died Thursday, started Tesoro with a $1,000 investment and said he learned how to make the company succeed in part through buying paperbacks in airports so he could “read about business law, accounting and finance as I traveled around the country to raise money.”
His contemporaries said West, who retired in 1992, was forward-thinking in everything he did.
“Bob was not only an entrepreneur who got things done, he had a big view of what he wanted to happen to make San Antonio a base for major corporations,” said Tom C. Frost Jr., senior chairman of Frost National Bank. “He did it, and he did it his way.”
West, who took his company public to pay off debts to two banks, was the first to create and head a San Antonio-based company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, said banker Glenn Biggs.
“That takes vision,” Biggs said. “It take relentless pursuit to grow a company like Tesoro, and, like all companies that are new, there are challenges, but he met them all with energy.”
Skeptics told West, who once said he “had oil in my veins since I was a child,” that the company he founded in 1964 as a spinoff of Texstar Petroleum would fail.
“I was told I was crazy by so many persons who were knowledgeable in the business,” he said in 1982. “First, I was told I would not succeed because the company was so poorly capitalized and, second, that it would never succeed because it was in San Antonio and that it needed to be in oil centers such as Houston.”
West proved the skeptics wrong and eventually led the first Fortune 500 company from San Antonio and boasted a place in oil and gas production in the United States, Europe, Canada, Bolivia, Trinidad, and Indonesia.
Tesoro, which earned less than $250,000 in its first year, reported $507 million in earnings last year.
But there were rough spots along the way.
Shareholders sued the company over $3,100 paid to a prostitute for a finance minister from Trinidad on a trip to Canada.
West said the payment was a “goodwill gesture” designed to curry favor in future tax matters. After a five-month trial, a federal jury awarded nothing to the shareholders.
West was born in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up in Tulsa, Okla., before settling in Texas. He was active in community and civic groups, serving as chairman of the City Public Service Board and the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.
West earned undergraduate degrees and a doctorate in chemical and petroleum engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com