Robert Orville Anderson
|Robert Orville Anderson|
April 12, 1917|
December 2, 2007 (aged 90)|
Roswell, New Mexico
Hugo A. Anderson|
Robert Orville Anderson (April 13, 1917 – December 2, 2007) was an American business leader, legendary wildcatter and philanthropist who founded Atlantic Richfield Oil Co. (since 2000 part of BP) through the 1966 merger of the Atlantic and Richfield oil companies and was Arco's chairman for two decades. Anderson used his clout to support an array of major cultural organizations, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to Harper's Magazine. He died December 2, 2007 at his home in Roswell, New Mexico.
Anderson turned Arco into the United States' sixth-largest oil company by the time he left in 1986 to pursue other interests. He was by then the largest individual landowner in the United States, with ranches and other holdings in Texas and New Mexico amounting to some 2,000 square miles (5,200 km2) and a personal fortune estimated at $200 million.
Robert Orville Anderson was born in Chicago on April 13, 1917, to the Swedish immigrants Hugo A. Anderson and Hilda Nelson. His father was a prominent banker who, Anderson often said, was the first banker in the U.S. "who loaned money on oil in the ground."
Robert attended the Laboratory Elementary and High Schools of the University of Chicago, and then studied there in college, majoring in economics and graduating in 1939. He was a member of the Omega chapter of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity. During summers, he worked on pipelines in Texas. After graduating, he worked for the American Mineral Spirits Company, a subsidiary of Pure Oil. In 1941, his father helped him and his brothers buy a refinery in New Mexico.
By 1950 Anderson owned several refineries, had built a pipeline system and had become a wildcatter. He entered the top ranks of independent oil producers in 1957 with a major find at the Empire-Abo field in New Mexico.
In 1963, Anderson merged his company into the Atlantic Refining Company of Philadelphia. In 1966, as Atlantic's chairman and chief executive, he merged with Richfield Oil of Los Angeles, forming ARCO. Headquarters were based in Dallas.
In 1967, he approved recommendations from ARCO, Alaska staff including geologists Marvin Mangus and John M. Sweet. His approval led to Arco's discovery of still the largest oil field yet found in North America at Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope. That oil field has produced billions of barrels of crude and accounts for a fifth of domestic oil production. Soon after, due to the wealth gained by the finding of Prudhoe Bay oil, he merged again with Sinclair Oil, forming the United States' seventh-biggest oil company.
Anderson led Arco's move from New York to Los Angeles in 1972, when it opened the landmark ARCO Plaza or Atlantic Richfield Plaza at 5th and Flower streets. The company's twin 51-story towers raised the downtown's skyline considerably.
Anderson's long-time friendship with Herbert Bayer, who at the time was the last surviving member of the Bauhaus, led to Anderson's interest and eventual passion for Contemporary Art. A compulsive collector, his personal collection spilled over into his offices. By the time he and ARCO moved to LA, "ARCO's Corporate Art Collection" had grown to more than 3,000 works, consisting of original paintings, drawings, sculpture, limited edition prints and signed photographs.
The centerpiece of the Bauhaus-inspired Arco Plaza is the magnificent Sculpture Fountain designed by Bayer, entitled Double Ascension. It was said to have been named by Anderson with Bayer present. Apparently Anderson laughed out loud when he first heard the original title (saying he loved it, but doubted "the Board Members & Shareholders would appreciate a sculpture titled Stairs to Nowhere").
ARCO's nationwide Art Collection grew to over 30,000 original pieces under the direction of Herbert Bayer and Leila L. Mehle, the Corporate Art Curator. A large part of the collection was housed in the ANACONDA Tower in Denver (built by ARCO upon their purchase of the Anaconda Copper mining concern in the late 1970s).
Under Mehle's direction, ARCO was the first company or collection to utilize computer data-entry to keep track of and inventory a major art collection. This Mehle to direct rotating the collection, giving the ARCO offices a "gallery feel" with a near-monthly change of key art works in common areas in the offices. No matter how small the office, a framed graphic, print or photograph was on display.
When asked why a Fortune 500 company should invest in modern art, Anderson replied: "Because I like it. It makes you think. I didn't get where I am because I took the same path as everyone else. One of the reasons ARCO is successful is that I encourage my people to look at all issues from every possible angle. That's one of the many reasons Contemporary Art is beneficial to society. It inspires you to think outside the box and use your imagination. If you examine a problem closely and think about all the possible solutions, you'll come up with the best possible answer. That's part of what made ARCO a success."
Always a visionary, Anderson also led the seven-company effort to develop the Alaskan oil pipeline in 1974.
From 1966 to 1982, through acquisitions and strategic diversification, Anderson grew ARCO's revenues 20-fold (from $1 billion to over $20 billion). In 1985, with crude oil prices set to plunge and hostile corporate takeovers in the offing, Anderson led a major restructuring of Arco.
He rescued two flailing publications, The Observer, and Harper's Magazine. He persuaded Arco's board to purchase the Observer in 1977 when it was nearly bankrupt. He called it "a modest bet on the survival of England." In 1980, Arco saved Harper's with a pledge of $1.5 million, which was matched by a similar amount from the MacArthur Foundation.
Anderson guided Arco to play an important civic and philanthropic role in Los Angeles. The company donated $3 million toward the cost of a new building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The building, which opened in 1986, was named for Anderson (it is now the Art of the Americas Building).
Anderson served as chairman of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, which convenes business executives and others to discuss world problems. He helped found the Worldwatch Institute in Washington to monitor global environmental trends, the International Institute for Environment and Development in London to study environmental and food issues and the John Muir Institute of the Environment in Davis, California.
Legacy and honors
- He was a lifetime trustee of the California Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago.
- 1974, the University of New Mexico's Robert O. Anderson School of Management was named after him.
- 1986, the new building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was named for him (it is now the Art of Americas Building).
- 1986, inducted into Junior Achievement's "U.S. Business Hall of Fame". 
- Woo, Elaine (2007-12-05). "Arco founder led firm into major civic philanthropy". Los Angeles Times: pp. B6. http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-anderson5dec05,1,3067816.story
- Martin, Douglas (December 6, 2007). "Robert O. Anderson, Oil Executive, Dies at 90". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/06/business/06anderson.html. Retrieved 2008-08-01. "Robert O. Anderson, an oilman whose Stetson-size accomplishments included building Atlantic Richfield into an industry giant; discovering oil in Alaska; becoming America’s largest rancher, and giving generously to environmental causes, died on Sunday at his home in Roswell, N.M. He was 90."
- Robert O. Anderson | The Anderson School of Management, University of New Mexico
- Rosalind Klein Berlin (April 14, 1986). "The US Business Hall of Fame". Fortune. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1986/04/14/67377/index.htm.
- "Robert O. Anderson", University of New Mexico, Robert O. Anderson School of Management
- Aspen Institute announcement of Anderson's death
- Obituary: "Robert O. Anderson", The Times (UK), 10 December 2007