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Originally published: 2013-05-06 17:09:40
Last modified: 2013-05-06 17:09:38

John H. Williams

John H. Williams, who co-founded and led the Tulsa-based company bearing his family name through an unprecedented era of growth and prosperity,died on May 1, 2013.
He was 94. Born on Aug. 17, 1918 in Havana, Cuba, Williams was recognized nationally as one of the great financial minds and deal-makers in America during the 1960's and 1970's.
He served as president and chief executive officer of The Williams Companies from 1949 to 1971, and chairman and CEO from 1971 to1979, when he retired. At that time, the company's $2 billion in assets were approximately 650 times the assets held by the start-up company in 1949. He served on Williams' board of directors for more than 44 years, leaving in 1993 at the mandatory age of 75, but continuing as an honorary board member, adviser and friend to the company until his death.
He amazed Wall Street, in 1966, when Williams Brothers, a pipeline engineering and construction
company, completed what then was the most highly leveraged cash-for-assets acquisition in the history of United States commerce. That deal, one of many completed during his three-decade leadership of Williams, involved the $287 million cash acquisition of a 6,228-mile common-carrier pipeline owned by eight major oil companies. Virtually all of the money was borrowed on the basis of verbal agreements and handshakes, Williams and his acquisition team had made with major lending institutions. Barron's, a national financial publication, compared the feat to a minnow swallowing a whale.
In addition to the heavy borrowing and minnow-and-whale aspects of the deal, Williams paid about three times the book value for the pipeline system, sparking further attention and controversy. Over time, the price proved to be a bargain as the successful pipeline system operation served as the foundation for additional and more diversified acquisitions.
Business Week
magazine, in 1973, described the deal-maker as a "polished and adroit financier" with a "quiet manner and a razor sharp mind." The feature article added, "It is part of John Williams' trademark to move into an industry before anyone else spots its potential."
"John had the best financial imagination of anyone I've ever run into," said Joseph H. Williams, his cousin, who succeeded him as chairman of The Williams Companies, in 1979. He added that John had the unique ability to "immediately determine" the realities and possibilities of financial situations - what would work and what would not.
For a decade-long period that ended in 1974, The Williams Companies (the Williams Brothers name-change made in 1971 to reflect diversification beyond pipelines and pipeline construction) ranked No. 1 among the nation's Fortune 500 companies in averaged combined return to investors, at 37.4 percent per year. The averaged return was more than five times that of the S&P 500 Index for that time period.
His penchant for business leadership continued throughout his life. He served on the board of Willbros Group - the pipeline engineering and construction company whose origin is traced directly to the original Williams Brothers Company founded by his father's brothers in 1908 - until May 2004.
Williams's father, Charles P. Williams, Sr., an American born Cuban businessman, died when Williams was eight years old. Williams began work for the original company, in 1938, during the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Yale University's Sheffield Engineering School, where he graduated with a civil engineering degree in 1940. His early work ranged from $5-a-day labor in the field to construction engineering stateside and abroad.
In World War II, he served as a Navy Seabee (construction battalion) officer. His Pacific Theater tour of duty included the invasion of Iwo Jima, a Japanese-held island where thousands of American Marines and other United States servicemen died. The front line of Marines had made it 20 yards from the surf when Williams went ashore.
Upon the retirement of his uncles, S. Miller Williams and David R. Williams, in 1949, Williams, his brother, Charles P. Williams, cousin David R. Williams and several others bought the remnants of the original company for $25,000 in cash and an agreement to pay the original founders $3.2 million on a "slow note." For his 20 percent stake in the newly founded company, Williams put up $5,000, and would later recall that $3,000 of that amount was borrowed.
He led the company to be publicly traded, in 1957, under the symbol WMB and saw it first traded on the New York Stock Exchange a decade later. Former employees and associates described him as firm and direct, but fair, a man who put integrity and performance foremost.a
In a 1999 interview, he said he expected employees to "operate with initiative and
independence." He acknowledged that he didn't like surprises -wanted to learn of problems early on - and that integrity was essential in all forms of the business, from field crews on construction sites to executives completing the deals leading to the ventures.
In essence, associates said, Williams was dedicated to living up o the promises made in each contract. In response , accolades came from numerous sources around the globe, such as when the president of Bolivia bestowed its highest civilian honor - The Order of the Condor - upon Williams and company for completing a pipeline construction project as set forth in the contract.
In addition to his business leadership, Williams was a philanthropist and civic leader. In 1976-77, company employees moved into their new 52-story headquarters, which was the centerpiece of a nine-square block revitalization project in downtown Tulsa, Okla.. Also, he spearheaded the fund-raising efforts for the Performing Arts Center, which includes a theater named for him, and received the Governor's Arts Award for these efforts.
He served on a number of boards, including the Penn Central Corporation, Houston Natural Gas, Beatrice Foods, Central and South West Corporation, New York Stock Exchange, National Bank of Tulsa (now Bank of Oklahoma), First National Bank of Tulsa, Unit Corporation, Apco Argentina, Tulsa University (former chairman of the trustees), Philbrook Art Museum (former chairman), Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust, Salvation Army, Southern Hills Country Club (former president), Augusta National Golf Club, Golf Club of Oklahoma, and Grandfather Golf and Country Club and Linville Golf Club of Linville. Also, he served as general chairman of the 77th U.S. Open Championship at Southern Hills.
Williams was a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers; former president of the Pipe Line Contractors Association; was named Outstanding Oklahoma Oil Man by the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association; was a member of the Oklahoma Commerce and Industry Hall of Fame, Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Tulsa Business Hall of fame, and Tulsa Historical Society Hall of Fame; was named Downtown Tulsa Unlimited "Man of the Year;" received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Petroleum Hall of Fame, and honorary doctor of law degrees from Oral Roberts University and Oklahoma Christian College.
He was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church of Tulsa. He and his wife, Joanne "Jody", resided in Tulsa and Linville.
In addition to his wife, survivors include three sons, John H. Williams, Jr., Burch I. Williams both of Tulsa, and S. Miller Williams of Asheville; a sister, Alice W. Inge of Mobile, Ala., and five grandsons. He was preceded in death by his brother, Charles P. Williams; and sister, Janet Barry.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust or a charity of your choice.
Memorial service werel 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at St. John's Episcopal Church, 4200 S. Atlanta Place, Tulsa, Okla. Moore's Southlawn, share memories at

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