OIL MAN: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum by Michael Wallis

OIL MAN: The Story of Frank Phillips and the Birth of Phillips Petroleum

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A romanticized portrait of the founder of Phillips Petroleum that glosses over most of this rugged individualist's rougher edges. Frank Phillips (1873-1950) escaped the Iowa farm where he spent his early youth by learning to barber. Before turning 25, however, Frank won the hand of a banker's daughter and switched to the financier's trade. By 1903, he moved on to Oklahoma, where he opened a bank of his own. Two years later, Frank ventured into the oil business, finding crude long before such legendary wildcatters as Getty, Sinclair, and Skelly whilst rubbing elbows with many of the outlaws who found refuge in the frontier territory. He incorporated Phillips Petroleum in 1917. The balance of Frank's life was devoted to building Phillips into an integrated energy enterprise that today ranks among the top second-tier multinationals. Along the upward track, Frank conducted a lengthy affair with the manager of his Wall Street office, sired an alcoholic son (who died young), endowed a foundation, railed against FDR's New Deal, and otherwise played the role of imperial capitalist. Wallis offers a relentlessly upbeat, even partisan account of Frank's frequently stormy career. To illustrate, he puts the best possible face on or ignores the implications of his subject's losing battles with antitrust authorities, reliance on gangsters to quell labor unrest, zeal for despoiling downtown Oklahoma City with oil rigs, failed family life, and lifelong philandering. Nor does the house-organ approach afford much perspective on this archetypal hustler's accomplishments, which included substantive support for aviation pioneers and significant contributions to pipeline technology. Equally irritating is the author's penchant for grandiloquent prose that might make Bulwer-Lytton blush (e.g., ""Dawn slipped up quiet as a mercy killer""). In coming to praise Frank Phillips, Wallis succeeds only in burying him. The tedious text has 40 black-and-white photographs from the corporate archives of Phillips Petroleum (not seen).

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Doubleday