What Oil Bust? Texas Billionaire Gives Each Worker A $100,000 BonusChristmas came early at Hilcorp Energy. Despite the depression in the oil and gas sector, this year employees are enjoying a $100,000 bonus.
It’s the continuation of a tradition at Hilcorp, owned by billionaire Jeffery Hildebrand. Five years ago, when Hilcorp achieved its goal of doubling its oil and gas production, Hildebrand gave every employee the choice of $35,000 cash or $50,000 towards a new car. This year, despite the downturn, Hilcorp doubled its output again, to more than 150,000 barrels per day. So Hildebrand doubled the bonus — to $100,000.
With about 1,400 employees, Hildebrand’s largesse will total more than $100 million (amounts are said to be prorated depending on how much of the past five years a worker was with the company).
Yes Hildebrand, 56, has been generous with his workers, but they have helped him make an incredible amount of money — $5.9 billion by FORBES’ latest count. (But we probably ought to knock that down to $5.8 billion after these bonuses.) His fortune has about trebled since the last big bonus in 2010.
It’s a wonderful way to inspire hard work and loyalty, especially among the lower ranks, where $100,000 is well in excess of what many workers make in a year. “It’s just a true gift, and I think myself, along with everyone, is not going to give less than 100 percent each day,” receptionist Amanda Thompson told Fox 4 News in Houston.
Hilcorp is the largest privately held oil and gas producer in the country. Hildebrand, believed to be the sole owner, doesn’t hand out these bonuses to get attention, but to motivate. Unlike the bosses of publicly traded companies, Hildebrand can’t divvy out stock options. But he is known for generous salaries and benefits and a workplace perennially voted as one of the best in the industry. In addition to giving his employees money, Hildebrand has also engineered some innovative ways for them to give it away. According to a story in the Houston Chronicle, when a new employee joins Hilcorp, the company opens an account in their name at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, deposits $2,500 in it, then matches the employee’s additional contributions to the fund dollar-for-dollar up to $2,000. The employee can donate the money to any 501(c)3 charity. Hilcorp repeats the process every year. Since 2007 the program has reportedly contributed more than $11 million to charity.
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Among the most tight-lipped members of the Forbes 400, Hildebrand has declined all of our interview requests over the years; a spokesperson did not return calls for comment about the bonuses.
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. He’s also had success spearheading new plays, including the Utica shale of Ohio. His biggest payday came in 2011 when he turned a $100 million investment in the Eagle Ford shale into $1.8 billion with a sale to Marathon Oil MRO +0.00%. 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. In September 2014 Hilcorp teamed with power generator NRG Energy NRG +0.00% to launch a world-scale project that will take carbon dioxide from a power plant and inject it into old oil fields to goose out more oil. In downtown Houston, Hilcorp is building a new 24-story, 500,000 square feet tower.
A horse lover, Hildebrand has built a polo field on his ranch in Aspen and owns the Great Southwest Equestrian Center. Last year he bought a 957-acre property in Colorado that used to belong to John Denver. Hildebrand also serves on the boards of the Greater Houston Community Foundation, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. 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.”