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Industrialist Who Bid on SFSP: Savvy, Reclusive

December 29, 1987|JAMES FLANIGAN | Times Staff Writer

Philip Frederick Anschutz, the man behind Monday's $1.8-billion bid for the Southern Pacific railroad, is one of the richest men in the world. Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at $1.35 billion in its 1987 rankings of the richest people in America.

But it's a safe bet that Anschutz, 48, did not volunteer the information about his wealth. Rarely quoted or photographed, Anschutz shuns publicity while apparently relishing business dealing. He is reported to work 17-hour days at his offices in Denver's 30-story Anaconda Tower--which he owns.

He also owns Rio Grande Industries, holding company for the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad and the bidder for Southern Pacific. Anschutz bought the railroad holding company for $500 million in 1984, effectively transferring money made in oil and gas to a major investment in railroads.

Oil is the source of the Anschutz wealth. Anschutz's father, who owned an oil drilling company in Denver, had invested in ranchland in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming in the 1950s. When more than 1 billion barrels of oil were discovered on one of those properties in 1979--the East Anschutz Ranch on the Utah-Wyoming border--Philip Anschutz became a billionaire.

The money did not make Anschutz, who had built his own oil prospecting business after graduating from the University of Kansas, any less publicity shy. Besieged by newspapers, television and the business press, Anschutz has managed to grant only brief interviews on strict grounds of non-attribution. He cites concern for the safety of his wife and three children as the reason for his reclusiveness.

Yet there is nothing secret about his business dealings in Denver. Displaying acute timing, Anschutz sold a major share of his oil interests in 1982--as energy prices were just beginning to fall from their peak--to Mobil for $500 million. Anschutz retains a 20% interest in the East Anschutz Ranch.

Shrewd Buyer

His timing was less remarkable in 1983 when he purchased a 20% holding in Denver's Ideal Basic Industries, a cement company. The company has lost money for the last five years and its stock has declined from more than $24 a share to $3.

Still, analysts saw Anschutz's move to acquire the Southern Pacific and combine it with the Denver & Rio Grande as a smart one. "He sees the same potential value that the Santa Fe saw," said E. Magnus Oppenheim, owner of a New York investment firm bearing his name.

Business associates in Denver observe that Anschutz is usually a shrewd buyer. They cite the way he used his oil company's own cash and borrowings for more than 80% of the purchase price of Rio Grande Industries in 1984.

Anschutz is also an avid collector of Western art, reportedly owning a collection worth $3 million. One railroad man half-jokingly summed up Anschutz's wealth on Monday by likening him to the fictional Denver oil baron of television's "Dynasty": "I like to call him Blake Carrington," said the railroader. "He owns everything."

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