The day after Robert E. Thomas turned 100, he fired up his white 500-horsepower BMW for the 10.5-mile drive to his office in the BOK Tower.
It’s a drive he still makes two to four times a week, even though he formally retired 30 years ago.
The acclaimed Tulsa businessman has sipped bourbon with Harry Truman* and spearheaded a Tulsa Area United Way campaign that raised more than $5 million. But for Thomas, some of his greatest moments were building Mapco Inc.
Born and raised in Ohio, Thomas learned "the business of business" when he attended the Wharton School of Finance and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Ambitious from the start, he was the first to complete the degree in three years instead of four.
Thomas began his career managing railroad investments for Keystone Custodian Funds.
"I not only earned $200 a month the first year, but with bonuses I earned $300 a month, which in 1936 was real money," he says.
He then worked for Pennroad Corp. before founding Mapco, a liquid natural gas pipeline startup, in 1960.
"We were successful from day one," he recalls. "We came out of construction with over $6 million in cash in the bank and all bills paid."
With Thomas at the helm, Mapco became an integrated energy company with 7,000 employees. He retired as chairman, president and CEO in 1984. In a multi-billion-dollar deal, The Williams Companies Inc. purchased Mapco in 1998.
"I was happy with the Williams merger, and with it, Williams inherited me as a lifetime consultant," Thomas says.
Thomas is a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, philanthropist and golf enthusiast, but at his core, he’s a businessman. That’s why corporate life still calls and he answers, via one of the many luxury cars he has owned since 1978.
"It’s limited to 170 miles per hour," he says of his BMW. "The fastest I’ve driven it is 115. It’s a fun car to drive."
*Thomas was chairman of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad when longtime Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn died in 1961. Thomas transported Harry and Bess Truman in his business car to Rayburn’s funeral in northeast Texas. Afterward, Thomas had a glass of bourbon with the former president and first lady.