Texas billionaire becomes one of Alaska's largest powerbrokers with BP sale

Eight years ago, Forbes said that billionaire Jeff Hildebrand, owner of Hilcorp, was “one of the more secretive of American oil-and-gas tycoons.”

With the announcement Monday by BP that it is selling its Alaska holdings to Hilcorp, Hildebrand, who turns 60 this year, becomes one of the most powerful figures in Alaska.

Forbes estimated in 2015 that he was worth $5.9 billion and that he was believed to own all of Hilcorp. He stepped down as CEO of the company last year, remaining as executive chairman of one of the largest privately held oil companies in the nation.

“Before founding Hilcorp in 1989 Hildebrand was a petroleum engineer at Exxon. His focus has long been on buying up old oilfields and applying new technology to squeeze out profits, something he's done with success in the Gulf Coast region, and more recently in the Cook Inlet and North Slope of Alaska,” Forbes reported in 2015.

“In 2012 he sold most of his Gulf Coast assets for $550 million and reinvested the cash in Alaska, buying up fields from BP for about $1 billion.”

Earlier this year, HIldebrand donated $25,000 to the campaign group largely funded by Gov. MIke Dunleavy’s brother and Bob Penney.

In 2015, during a year in which oil prices were down, his company received a great deal of attention after giving all employees who had been there five years bonuses of $100,000 for meeting a series of ambitious five-year goals to increase the size of the company.

“Early on, I worked at places where bonuses were pennies from heaven,” Hildebrand once said. “Hilcorp ties incentives to things our people can control. Since we pull together, not competing against each other and we all have skin in the game, it’s amazing what we can accomplish.”

HIldebrand has extensive real estate holdings in Texas, Colorado and elsewhere. In 2014, he bought a 957 acres in Colorado that once belonged to John Denver and has a polo field in Aspen. His polo team, Tonkawa, won the Silver Cup earlier this month in a major tournament at one of the Aspen Valley Polo Club fields. Hildebrand has long been an active player in the sport.

“Near his Houston home, he and wife Mindy opened River Oaks Donuts in 2013. According to Mrs. Hildebrand, that was a way of giving back, too. "I felt like I wanted to provide the neighborhood with donuts," she said at the time. "It's as simple as that. There was a need so we are providing a service."

Forbes said that Hildebrand denied every request for an interview and he was “among the most tight-lipped members of the Forbes 400.”

In 2017, the University of Texas at Austin named its petroleum and geosystems engineering department after his foundation following a gift of $25 million. “Regent Jeff Hildebrand and Mindy Hildebrand have a very deep connection to our university that makes this gift so special,” university President Greg Fenves said.

In a 2018 interview with the McKinsey Quarterly, Hilcorp CEO Greg Lalicker said the company ties bonuses to increases in production and financial performance over five-year periods.

“So Hilcorp sets company-wide targets over a series of five-year periods with incentives for all employees if Hilcorp achieves the goals. The effect is to ensure that everyone makes decisions in the interests of meeting those company-wide targets. From 2006 to 2011, for example, the target was to double the production rate from 40,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/day) to 80,000 boe/day, to double reserves from 125 million boe to 250 million boe, and to double the value of the business from $1 billion to $2 billion.”

“When the 2011 goal was met, every employee got $50,000 to spend on a car--the same amount for everyone who was here the whole five years. Our 2011 to 2015 target was to reach 120,000 boe/day, 500 million boe, and $6 billion value, and the reward was $100,000 cash per employee. Now the latest target is 275,000 boe/day. The reward will be the cash equivalent of one boe for every day a person was employed at Hilcorp during those five years. Depending on prices, that will come out to $50,000 to $75,000 for anyone who was employed for the entire five years. Operations people like the idea that the first barrel they produce each day is theirs--as long as the company meets its targets,” Lalicker said.

Dermot Cole10 Comments