Raymond Plank, 1922–2018
The tax expert who became an oil giant
The son of a coal miner, Plank was raised near Minneapolis and became a bomber pilot during World War II, said Oil and Gas Investor. On Aug. 9, 1945, he had a hunch America was about to drop its second A-bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. He got airborne—without orders to do so. “What the hell,” Plank recalled saying. “This is real history in the making. Let’s go.” He spotted the mushroom cloud from the air. After the war, Plank founded a tax practice in Minneapolis, said The New York Times, and had soon branched out into mutual funds, insurance, and, surprisingly, oil wells. At the time, America’s top income tax brackets were 91 or 92 percent, and “oil exploration offered huge tax advantages.” Plank turned oil-and-gas projects from often opaque, unregulated, all-or-nothing affairs into mainstream billion-dollar businesses.
As oil prices cratered in the 1960s, Plank sold Apache’s energy assets—and pivoted into everything from steel to lumber, said The Washington Post. A decade later, as oil prices rose, he bought the assets back. In the mid-1990s, he moved Apache to Houston. Always searching for an edge, he sniffed out the fraud at Enron early, then shorted the energy company’s stock before its infamous collapse. “I knew I could make a lot of money,” Plank said before Enron’s 2001 bankruptcy. “These guys were sitting ducks.” ■