Windows on the World of Raymond Plank
Founder, Apache Corp
Vol. 2009 No. 3

It is Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 and I have just watched Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, be interviewed over a half hour of Bloomberg News, by Charlie Rose.  Charlie Rose is my favorite television interviewer because his questions and points are invariably well researched, on point, and relevant.

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s President, has risen, in my estimation, to be a key player not only in Egypt, but the volatile Near East.  His years’ tenure as Egypt’s strong man and key figure in seeking to arbitrate conflicting interests of the region have been of very key importance for many years, at 80 he appears fit as he last was when I saw him two years ago in Cairo.


I first met Charlie Rose in New York City some years ago, when on request, he appeared at a meeting of educators, in New York’s high schools, to compliment Apache Corporation and our program, Fund for Teachers, over what seems but a few years, has sent over 3500 K-12 teachers on summer sabbaticals to advance their teaching skills, acknowledge their role in education and leverage their class room effectiveness.  Two years after Charlie’s initial role, he returned and gave our program another shot in the arm. 


Some 15 years ago the thought occurred to several of my Apache associates that a personal relationship with Egypt’s strong man, Hosni Mubarak, might underscore an Apache value I had sought to inculcate into the company as part of our culture to advance Apache’s future as a “global player” in oil and natural gas exploration and development.


My background underscored a principle I had sought to instill within Apache as we embarked on a program to grow internationally our oil and gas operations, a cause which initially caused healthy, in depth debate at our board level.  The premise was simple, yet our people understood and bought into it like ducks to water.  When Apache enters a foreign country, “we are the guests, they are the host.” 


Behind that simple statement lay the fact that many countries’ histories predated the United States.  They had history, pride, and views on how companies with interests in their lesser developed resources and lesser honed technical skills, should conduct themselves were we to advance our respective interests in their oil and gas resources.  A relationship in any foreign land needed to proffer a credible, “win-win approach,” far distant from largely British, French, German, followed by American imperialistic self-interests. 


Accordingly, not being totally dense between the ears, I came to appreciate the importance of a personal relationship with Egypt’s head man, Hosni Mubarak.  Apache’s then only woman director, Mary Ralph Lowe, who had taken over her father’s oil and gas operations at age 17 when he died, was a friend of Jim Baker’s wife; Baker, being George H. Bush’s Secretary of State, would undertake obtaining an appointment for me with President Mubarak following the first Bush Presidency in the initial Desert Storm.


Since I thought two straws in the soda were better than one, and since the U.S. had an important embassy in Cairo, I made that approach directly, and received what I took to be a condescending rebuff.  The U.S. Ambassador, appointed by Clinton, responded that he had more to do than arrange appointments with Egypt’s President – to which I took umbrage.  I wrote to Bill White, then Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of Energy who went on to become well regarded Mayor of Houston and now candidate for a Texas Senate seat.  I fired off a note to him, copying him with our Ambassador’s letter, asking, “What the hell does this guy have to do that’s more important than enabling Egypt’s largest investor to meet the President?”  That letter, which amused the White House, made its way to President Clinton, so it was not apparent to me as to which route led me to Hosni Mubarak’s office.


We could bring our values of integrity, advanced technology, and a sense of urgency to improve results, but for others to work productively together, leadership requires understanding the premise that people support that which they help create, even while resisting change from an existing established pattern to which they are accustomed and find personally less-threatening than change. 


When Apache entered Egypt, Amoco had for a number of years been the country’s major oil producer, and their production along the Nile River and Gulf of Suez was in sharp steady decline.  Concurrently the major oil companies had sparsely drilled in the immense underexplored Western Desert.  To offset the production steep decline in the eastern part of the country, it was important that companies such as Apache be successful farther westward.


Prior to my meeting with President Mubarak, there was considerable skepticism among large oil companies and senior Egyptian officials that enough hydrocarbons could be found in the Western Desert to offset the withering oil production in the east.  We were to change all that, but it would require time, technology, capital, and cooperation.  Above all the primary requisites was the avoidance of a superiority complex or know it all condescension.


We needed to focus on an old Indian saying “walk in the other person’s moccasins.”  We did so, and developing a personal relationship was one of the major keys to a mutually beneficial outcome.   To know Hosni Mubarak personally was a major step forward, an alternative to our government’s perceived high handedness seeking to lead nations from our country’s power position.


In several of Mubarak’s and my personal conversations, I raised the question, “Are you comfortable that there is a major difference in how a privately owned company, such as Apache, operates to mutual benefit based on common interest than a powerful government setting the bar to which Egypt or any foreign country is expected to oblige.”  “Of course,” was his response, and he had offered it while seeking to maintain his influence as a constructive, delicate, and often intermediary in difficult situations. 


My initial meeting with President Mubarak was scheduled to consume 15 minutes, and we talked for an hour, President Mubarak was curious as to my connection with Jim Baker, to which inquiry I responded, “being new to Houston, I had not met him but would, having worked closely with George H.W. Bush before he was president and responded to Desert Storm sufficiently.”  In brief over a series of meetings in Cairo, Washington, Chicago, and Houston, President Mubarak and I became friends, which relationship extended to his very able son, Gamal Mubarak and members of his cabinet, primarily Youssef Butros Ghali.  Youssef, who with his charming, alert wife, Michelle, visited us in Ucross Wyoming and also President Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, who’s interest in girl’s education in Egypt’s rural areas, lead to friends and Apache employees building of 203 one room girl’s schools, where in English the signs read “to Egyptian girls, with love,” listing the American family sponsors.


President Mubarak is to visit U.S. President Barack Obama in the states this weekend, and it is in anticipation to same that Charlie Rose interviewed and asked a number of important, relevant questions.  As one might expect, Mubarak responded to no question either directly or with candor.  That is not how the political process works.  There is simply too much at stake, both between countries, and all of the Near East.  A lesser leader than Mubarak might have talked past Charlie Rose to the American public and biased and botched the outcome.


I would repeat, however, that in innumerable private conversations with President Mubarak, and his son Gamal, both have been warm, open and direct.


In a few short years, Egypt became as large a contributor to Apache’s success abroad as we had been able to grow Apache in 40 plus years on the premise, “When we go to a foreign country, they are the host; and we are the guest.”


Kevin Ikel, our first Egypt country manager and his lovely wife, Sandra, understood it and lived it.  His successor, Rod Eichler, has done a superior service to Apache and Egypt’s interest in the intervening years.  His Apache performance and advancement reporting to Apache’s C.E.O., Steve Farris, has also been deserved and earned. 


There will be more on Egypt, when I finish my memoir.  It is a fascinating country with a 5000 year pedigree.  It’s a privilege to have been part of its vibrance, and participate in the country’s advancement.  As I left Apache, we were by far the country’s largest investor.  The quality of the relationship between Egypt and Apache Corporation has been of important benefit to both.