Dan Duncan: A perseverant climb from the base to the top

The number ten in the Forbes list of America’s richest families goes to the Duncan’s. In particular, to its most popular member: Dan Duncan. Born in poverty, Dan Duncan was educated by his grandmother since his early childhood in the rural town of Center, Texas. After a long and successful business career, he became one of the most powerful US millionaires thanks to the management of his oil industries, natural gas and petrochemical pipelines.

For a long time, Dan Duncan was the richest person in Texas and one of the 100 wealthiest men in the world, until his death, six years ago, at the age of seventy-seven. In 2007, Forbes magazine mentioned him as the richest person in Houston, and the third of the entire state. The net value of his fortune was $ 8.2 million during that year. Although the following year he experienced an economic crisis, which lowered his fortune to 7.6 million due to falling fuel prices, Dan Duncan remained a wealthy man until his death.

His fortune (about ten billion dollars) ended up in the hands of his four children: Randa, Milane, Dannine and Scott Duncan. The inheritance was divided equally, it increased by fifteen billion dollars since then.

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For a long time, the experts of the history of America’s most influential tycoons have considered Dan Duncan as a very interesting example of perseverance and good business sense. Duncan, who was born poor in Shelby County, a rural area of Texas, and was orphaned at the age seven had no bright future in nobody’s mind. However, against all odds, he co-he founded his large company Enterprise Products in 1968 and led the market thirty years later.

The company began just like him: humbly. Only two trucks to transport fossil fuels. How did he manage to own more than seventy-seven thousand kilometers of gas pipelines throughout the United States, and thousands of trucks to transport oil and gas? It’s an interesting question.

His ancestors and his father were farmers, without much hope of development. When Dan Duncan was just seven years old, he lost his mother, who died of tuberculosis. Family tragedies did not end there: his brother died the same year because of blood poisoning. For this reason, he moved with his grandmother, who always encouraged him with a simple but powerful sentence: “Do the best you can every day.” Eventually, after a great effort from his family, Duncan graduated from the Shelbyville High School.

“The young Duncan always had a nose for business”, says Patrick Dwyer, financial executive and private wealth advisor, “but unlike several wealthy families in the country, like Rockefellers or Duponts, he did not possess a large capital to start his business.” He was a good employee, and with his father he worked as a roughneck and pipeliner in large oil and gas companies, which gave him the necessary experience and knowledge for his later business. His father suffered from leukemia and died soon after. Moved by the hard knocks of life and duty for his country, he enlisted in the army of the United States of America and fought as a soldier in the Korean War in the early fifties.

The experience across the sea was useful not only to temper his character, but it opened academic opportunities. In 1955, after coming back from the war, he studied business, finance and accounting thanks to G. I. Bill and graduated from Massey Business College. During his studies, he worked very hard at the post office (where no one suspected about the fortune future of the employee Dan Duncan.)

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Image courtesy of Rick Kimpel at Flickr.com

Two years later, while the United States lived an era of abundance and economic and social development, Dan Duncan began working on Wanda Petroleum. Although it was a small company (compared to large corporations dominating the market), Duncan used his knowledge of the industry and became an excellent worker.

A decade later, ready to break ground on his own, Duncan bought two delivery trucks to distribute propane and started his own company. Its modest capital of ten thousand US dollars was the first stone building great success.

In the late nineties, he took Enterprise Products Partners LP public. At that point, Dan Duncan was already a rich man who not only cared about increasing the flow of his fortune, but to contribute to philanthropic causes. His philanthropic interest was focused in medical research, the care of poor children and education. Thanks to his help, Dan Duncan will be remembered for a long time in the medical community of Texas. Mr. Duncan donated more than seventy million dollars to Texas Children’s Hospital and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and feel thirty-five million dollars to Baylor College of Medicine.

Shortly before his death, the piping of his company covered an area of 48,700 miles and its production amounted to 220 million barrels of fuel (including natural gas).

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