Texas oil tycoon Autry Stephens, 85, is selling company to retire

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

An 85-year-old oil tycoon is cashing out, but appeared solemn in an interview about selling his business.

Autry Stephens sold his company, Endeavor Energy Resources, to Diamondback Energy earlier this week. The $26 billion in cash and stock deal would make him the richest oil tycoon in the United States, Bloomberg reported.

But the taciturn Stephens seemed reluctant to leave the company he founded in 1979, telling the Wall Street Journal that he made that decision largely because of a cancer diagnosis.

“I will miss the people there,” he told the Journal in a recent interview. “It was kind of a little family.”

Stephens had long resisted outside attempts to buy Endeavor, which was one of the last major independent oil companies in the rich Permian Basin of West Texas. But things changed when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he told the Journal.

He said he decided not to turn the company over to his daughter, Lyndal Greth, who sits on the company’s board of directors and has children of her own, and that his son was not part of the family business.

Now, the deal with Diamondback Energy — which beat out other big bidders like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips — is poised to make the company a powerful force in the nation’s energy scene.

Stephens is well known for his unpretentious style. He drove an older model Toyota Land Cruiser to work and flew on a budget on Southwest Airlines, the Journal reported. That reflects his modest upbringing on a farm in Central Texas that grew peanuts and watermelons, according to his alumni profile at the University of Texas at Austin.

Despite his enormous fortune and fame – he appeared on the truTV reality series “Black Gold” – his career trajectory seemed to remain focused on his initial ambitions, which he said were “to earn a stable salary and a comfortable retirement,” second to UT Austin.

Stephens attributed his success to his openness to new ideas and technologies, as well as a cash-first drilling strategy that Bloomberg said helped him survive the 2008 financial crisis while many other U.S. operators went bankrupt.

“The history of the oil industry is full of stories of people who made and lost fortunes time and time again,” he told his alma mater.

Asked by the Journal what he would do with his new billions, Stephens said he hadn’t really thought about it yet.

Since then, the sale of Endeavor has catapulted Stephens from 130th to 77th place on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His net worth grew by $17.5 billion compared to the same period last year, behind only Nvidia’s Jensen Huang and Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg.

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