JP Getty’s father, George Getty, had grown up poor on an Ohio farm, but later managed to get through law school supported by his wife. He became a successful Minneapolis attorney and later did well in the Oklahoma oil rush.
Into this relative prosperity, John Paul was born in 1892, an only child. He writes fondly of a teenage apprenticeship as a roustabout in the oilfields, then very much a dusty frontier place of rough men, “where gambling halls were viewed as the ultimate in civic improvements.” In utter contrast, he then spent two years at Oxford before returning to the States.
He had planned to enter the US Diplomatic Service, but at 22 he went into business on his own as a ‘wildcatter’ (an independent oil driller and speculator) and got lucky with some oil leases. He was a millionaire by age 24. Deciding to ‘retire’, he enjoyed himself for a couple of years, but his parents were not pleased, his father telling him that he had a duty to build and operate businesses that created wealth and a better life for people.
The oil rush had shifted to California, and Getty decided to invest in new oil leases near Los Angeles. His business rapidly expanded over the next few years, but his father’s death in 1930 was a setback. It was said that Getty Snr left John Paul $15 million. In fact, it was $500,000.
Amidst the Depression of the 1930s, Getty came up with the idea of an integrated oil company spanning exploration, refining, and retail marketing. He bought up oil stocks which were now very cheap, purchased the Pierre Hotel in New York at a bargain price, and began a difficult 15-year takeover of the Tidewater oil company, then one of California’s largest. After WWII, Getty Oil gambled $12 million on oil concessions in Saudi Arabia. Though it took a further four years and $18 million for the wells to produce, by then the world had become aware of the vast reserves in the area, and the gamble paid off handsomely.
In 1957, Fortune magazine named Getty the richest man in America with an estimated worth of $1 billion. He would from then on receive on average 3,000 letters a week from strangers requesting money.
There are plenty of books on making money by men who haven’t made much. But if J. Paul Getty, who Fortune magazine called “the richest man in the world, ” doesn’t know how who does? Here the billionaire businessman discloses the secrets of his success – and provided a blueprint for those who want to follow in his footsteps. And he goes beyond the matter of making money to the question of what to do with it.