Gathering and Giving: George Kaiser (1942—)
The living embodiment of both the American dream and Oklahoma as the land of second chances, this native Tulsan’s Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, where his father Herman Kaiser had been a judge. Fueled by Herman, then son George’s leadership of Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, George ranked among the 50 wealthiest people in America in 2020. He had given more than $4 billion to charitable causes.
Shrewder than most of his oil and gas industry peers, George retained the means in Oklahoma’s 1980s depression to buy hordes of “toxic” real estate—property foreclosed on by banks or for sale by desperate owners, yet with few qualified potential buyers—at fractions of their normal worth. He capped off this momentous tour de force with his 1991 purchase of the failing Bank of Oklahoma (BOK).
He proceeded to build BOK Financial Corporation into Oklahoma’s largest bank and one of the largest in the Southwest. He turned the proceeds from it, real estate, his genius in the energy industry including as a liquified natural gas mastermind, and other endeavors into an unprecedented engine of support for causes to elevate the needy.
In the case of downtown Tulsa’s Gathering Place, declared one of the 100 greatest places in the world by Time magazine, and his extraordinary support of Tulsa University and OU, his giving through the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) directly impacted all strata of society. Historian Bob Blackburn recalled the truth that Kaiser himself would be too humble ever to declare:
“Without George Kaiser, no one even dreams of the Gathering Place, much less does it. It was his leadership. He said, ‘This is what Tulsa needs. If I do half of this, will the rest of you boys do the other half?’”
“Half of this” totaled $200 million, the largest private gift to a public park in American history. The GKFF also paid $10,000 to anyone who moved to Tulsa to work remotely from their home for at least one year. His generous heart seemed especially tender toward children, particularly those most vulnerable and at-risk:
“Children bear no responsibility for the circumstance of their birth and are often the most impacted by poor health outcomes in their families, limiting their opportunity to escape from intergenerational poverty….I had the advantage of both genetics and upbringing. As I looked around at those who did not have these advantages, it became clear to me that I had a moral obligation to direct my resources to help repair that inequity.”
Kaiser spent approximately half of his 70 hours per week of work on his many responsibilities of business leadership and the other half on his philanthropic efforts.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.