If you asked a newcomer to Tulsa who they thought was the most influential businessman in the community, they would likely come up with the same answer as the people who have lived here a lifetime.
If the number of times a business leader’s name has appeared in the news is directly proportional to how they are perceived in relation to what is happening in the community – it would be same answer.
You want to know the Tulsan who has built his business, wealth and charitable giving to the pinnacle in the community – same answer.
In a poll of several dozen prominent businesspeople and community leaders conducted by the Tulsa Business Journal, George B. Kaiser was selected the man who most makes things happen, a.k.a., The Rainmaker, in Tulsa.
What one local businessperson wrote in response to the Tulsa Business Journal’s exclusive requests for nominations on who makes things happen in Tulsa captures the majority opinion.
Responding to who makes things happen in Tulsa politics, real estate, banking, health care and philanthropy, the businessperson responded, “Is this a trick question, or is George Kaiser the answer to all of these?”
“George Kaiser is The Rainmaker. He has to be No. 1 on this list,” said another solicited for nominations.
Kaiser is a self-made billionaire, chairman of his own banking and financial conglomerate, Tulsa-based BOK Financial Corp., and president and CEO of Kaiser-Francis Oil Co.
“He has been a real difference maker in the last 25 years in this city,” said Ed Keller, long-time Oklahoma banker and chairman of Tulsa-based Summit Bank. “He along with the Zarrows and the Helmerichs, and the Warrenshave really made a difference. He rescued a bank and turned that entity into a really powerful force not only in Tulsa, but also in the state.”
In the past year, Kaiser moved up another slot on the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans to No. 26, with a net worth listed at $11 billion.
In 1998 he formed the Tulsa Community Foundation, the most valuable community foundation in the U.S, of which the Kaiser Family Foundation is a part.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has a history of supporting public projects.
Recently, the foundation pledged $12.4 million to enhance the river trails on the River Park’s popular east and west banks of the Arkansas River.
The gift was the largest private gift ever to the River Parks Authority.
This summer the foundation pledged $100 million for enhancements and gathering spots along River Parks as part of the proposed $282 million river development proposal going to Tulsa county voters Oct. 9.
“There is very little happens here of significance that they haven’t played a major role in through their own financial commitment and their ability persuade others to invest with them. The river is kind of the latest project,” Keller said.
The Tulsa Community Foundation experienced unprecedented growth in 2005 to $2.29 billion in assets, an 84 percent increase over 2004. For the fifth year, the foundation led the nation in gifts received, reporting a record $791.3 million.
The Tulsa Community Foundation also distributed a record $40 million in grants in 2005, more than doubling the $19 million given in 2004.
The community foundation administers programs such as the Fund for Teachers and Partnership for the Availability of School Supplies.
The foundation convened Step Up Tulsa, a group of local public, private and nonprofit leaders, to provide guidance on projects to improve the city.
In 1990, Acquisition Holding Co., formed by Kaiser, purchased the FDIC’s interest in Bank of Oklahoma and formed BOK Financial Corp.
The publicly held BOK Financial has realized 16 consecutive years of record earnings. At the end of 2006, it had $18.1 billion in assets in eight states with more than 160 locations.
Born in 1942, George Kaiser attended Tulsa public schools. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Harvard University. He returned to Tulsa in 1966 to work for his father. He took control of Kaiser-Francis Oil in 1969. ?