We know that Broadmoor hotel/Gazette owner Phil Anschutz, with an estimated net worth of $10.8 billion, is richer than 99.999999 percent of his fellow mortals. Those who have followed his career know that he didn't acquire his riches solely through inheritance or lucky investments.
Anschutz has created, acquired and/or reimagined more than 150 businesses, in fields as dissimilar as professional sports, railroading, telecommunications, oil exploration, wind-power generation and transmission, hotels, newspapers, ranching and water resources. In his spare time, he's assembled the finest private collection of Western art in the world and, rather than hide it in some heavily guarded mansion, put it on public view in the Anschutz-funded American Museum of Western Art. He's also funded an eponymous family foundation with assets of more than $2 billion.
Isn't that enough? Apparently not. Anschutz has written a book, Out Where the West Begins, profiling 50 early Western American business leaders from 1800 to 1920.
"At that particular moment in time [the] country was on the verge of an explosion of growth," Anschutz writes in an introduction, "new technology and inventions were being created, government influence and involvement were at a low point, vast new frontier lands in the West were available and investment capital was coming into the market."
That might sound dry and scholarly, but it's not. Out Where the West Begins is a sprightly, graceful and fascinating read. Its author writes about now-legendary entrepreneurs such as John Jacob Astor, Spencer Penrose, Adolph Coors and J.P. Morgan with an authority and understanding that few historians can claim.
"For the last fifty years," Anschutz writes, "I have read their biographies, learned their histories, thought about their strategies and contributions and have even purchased some of the companies they founded and extended their business strategies further."
Anschutz sounds fair and even-handed, even when describing some of the more ruthless buccaneers in American history. He doesn't gloss over the seamy side of 19th-century capitalism and doesn't seek to excuse those who may have profited from the sometimes merciless realities of their times.
Anschutz's narratives are enlivened by anecdotes and wry observations. As he tells the stories of Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford and Mark Hopkins, the four Californians who created the Central and Southern Pacific railroads, you can imagine yourself at that fateful meeting in a room above a hardware store in 1860, when the four Sacramento merchants heard Theodore Judah's pitch for a transcontinental railroad. They bought it, and agreed to risk their fortunes on Judah's airy scheme.
"They became," Anschutz wrote, "the richest, most powerful men in California — authors, really, of the Golden State's glorious ascent ... All in all, this wasn't a bad showing for four Sacramento shopkeepers whose greatest previous ambition was to corner the local market on shovels."
And while Anschutz is a careful historian, he clearly admires and respects individuals who not only amassed wealth but used it to sustain and better their communities. Penrose, William Palmer, Andrew Carnegie and Charles Boettcher are among those whom he praises.
Denver businessman Boettcher, who leapfrogged successfully from venture to venture in the tumultuous business world of 19th- and early 20th-century Colorado, draws particularly favorable attention.
"This industrious German immigrant," Anschutz writes, "endures as a vivid example of how to navigate a full spectrum of economic opportunity and how to pay back with a major, model charitable foundation."
Boettcher lived into his 90s, still walking six blocks to work daily from his home in the Brown Palace Hotel. "His son [and business partner] Claude went to work in an enormous chauffeured Packard, attired in fashionable and conservative suits," Anschutz writes. "Asked why he didn't ride and dress like that, Charles replied, "Unlike myself, Claude has a rich father."
Claude didn't squander the family fortune, however; he greatly increased it. The Boettcher Foundation has given away more than $300 million since it was created in 1940.
Is there a common thread linking these men? Maybe not. Anschutz quotes Crocker.
"One man works hard all his life and ends up a pauper. Another man, no smarter, makes twenty million dollars. Luck has a hell of a lot to do with it."