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Oilman discovered wonders of science

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in Leaders & Managers

William Myron Keck watched his first oil strike from a Baltimore & Ohio train where he was selling sandwiches. 

The founder of Superior Oil, Keck exploited every new discovery in science to find oil, and the strength of the company was that it discovered two barrels for every one it pumped.

Keck roved the world in search of oil. When problems appeared, he came up with solutions:

  • He invented the Swinging Spider, a cable tool that helped avert cave-ins.
  • His company struck it rich during the 1920s in California but had to drill down more than 7,000 feet. At the time, few had the technology to do it. Superior did. It held the industry record for depth drilling.
  • He pushed for innovations in the 1930s, working with the California Institute of Technology to develop tools for directional drilling.
  • He hired geologists who guided the creation of reflection seismographs to survey potential oil fields.
  • He partnered with Pure Oil Co. to build the first offshore oil rig.

Realizing that education was the key to success, Keck established a foundation in 1954 that has given more than $1 billion to educational programs in the liberal arts, sciences, engineering and medicine. Projects supported by the W. M. Keck Foundation include public radio and television, notably “Sesame Street,” plus libraries, hospitals and observatories.

The W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, completed in 1996, reflects the oilman’s passion for the right tools. Each twin telescope holds the largest mirrors in the world.

Lesson: Knowledge is power. Use it as a lever to lead your industry.

— Adapted from “He Never Met An Opportunity He Didn’t Like,” Kasey Seymour, Investor’s Business Daily.

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