THE INVISIBLE BILLIONAIRE
Leader of the pack
Low-key tycoon Dan Duncan amassed a fortune by getting into natural gas first. Now, Houston’s richest man is raising his profile
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
Based on Enterprise’s proxy statement for the deal, the reporter calculated that “this fellow Dan Duncan” had a net worth of more than $4 billion, good for 40th in the magazine’s annual ranking of wealthiest Americans. Did Enterprise dispute the amount?
“No,” replied Randy Burkhalter, Duncan’s director of investor relations, “but do you really have to print that?”
He was only half kidding. His boss, after all, had amassed his fortune with few people outside the industry noticing — and he liked it that way. He not only had become Houston’s richest man, he’d stayed one of its least conspicuous. A year and a half later, his worth now at $6 billion, his profile raised by a $100 million gift to Baylor College of Medicine, Duncan remains one of the city’s least known heavy hitters.
The thing is, Duncan’s story is epic stuff: self-made man who started his company with $10,000 and a trailer-truck; visionary new breed of oilman who carved out a niche that changed the industry; big game hunter who’s stalked prey on six continents; record-setting philanthropist; cancer survivor.
Despite it all, Duncan built a $15 billion company in an esoteric part of the natural gas industry known as midstream, between exploration and end-use. As one of the two largest companies of its kind in the nation, Enterprise boasts more than 32,000 miles of onshore and offshore pipelines and nearly 175 million barrel equivalents of natural gas and natural gas liquids storage capacity.
In person, the 73-year-old Duncan hardly fits the billionaire image. An East Texas country boy who resembles John Glenn without the crinkles, he’s nothing like the brash, rough-hewn Texas oil baron of old. Unflappable and approachable, he strives for deals that benefit both parties and bases his business philosophy on his grandmother’s motto of “Do the best you can every day.” People in the industry say he has no ego. Enemies are nowhere to be found.