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About Boots Adams
Kenneth Stanley "Boots" Adams (August 31, 1899 – March 30, 1975) was an American business executive and civic philanthropist of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Adams began a career with the Phillips Petroleum Company in 1920 as a clerk in the warehouse department. Twelve years later he was chosen by founder and president Frank Phillips to fill the newly created position of Assistant to the President. Six years after that, he was elected president of Phillips 66.
At age 38, Adams was one of the nation's youngest leaders of a major corporation. In 1964, after 44 years with the company, Adams retired from Phillips but continued as its Board Chairman until 1968.
Kenneth Stanley Adams was born August 31, 1899 in Horton, Kansas. His father was an engineer for the Rock Island Railroad and in 1902 he boarded several of his co-workers along with their families. They had been dislocated due to large scale regional flooding in that year.
One of the co-workers noticed Kenneth Adams, then 3-years-old, had a pair of boots that he wanted to wear all of the time, even falling asleep with them on at times. Noticing this affinity, the man began calling him "Boots", the name Adams would use for the remainder of his life.
After graduating from Wyandotte High School in 1917, Adams moved to Dewey, Oklahoma and took his first job—delivering ice in the neighboring town of Bartlesville. He said he was happy that his work involved heavy lifting as that helped keep him in good physical condition while he waited for classes to begin at the University of Kansas.
Adams enrolled to the University of Kansas in the fall of 1917, but left the university in 1920 to work for the Phillips Petroleum Company. He would have graduated the following year but economic circumstances required him to place his academic aspirations on hold and instead, enter the workforce right away.
In 1924, Adams married Blanche Keeler, whose brother W. W. Keeler, would later become President and Chief Executive Officer of Phillips Petroleum Corporation and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. They divorced in 1945. Adams married Dorothy Glynn Stephens in 1946.
Career at Phillips Petroleum
Boots Adams played basketball for the Phillips 66ers, a semi-professional team sponsored by the Phillips Petroleum Company. Because of his team affiliation, Adams was offered employment with the company. He began working as a warehouse clerk in 1920 and ascended to become the company's chief executive—one of the youngest ever to lead a major corporation in the United States.
Early executive years
Boots Adams first entered the company's executive tier in 1932 when founding president Frank Phillips appointed him as his assistant—aside opposition within the executive corps, where Adams was viewed as an Oscar Madison type, and the teaming, an odd couple managing the company's front office. Adams inaugurated the newly created position where even Frank Phillips was outspokenly cautious about incorporating his ideas. Phillips instructed Adams:
I’m going to object to everything you do, but you go ahead and do it anyway. Frank Phillips c. 1932
A conservative criticism of the relationship between Phillips and Adams suggests mildly that "They often disagreed as to how the company should be run." Amidst skepticism, Adams was able to secure the confidence of Frank Phillips, and the amber light of caution relented to a green light of authority to move forward. Just before becoming the president of Phillips Petroleum, Adams turned his attention to the company's amateur basketball team.
Because of the depression, Phillips had not sponsored its team since the 1929–30 season. Boots Adams, remembering his days as a member of the Phillips 66ers, wanted to revive the program. His support culminated in producing the 1937 team that would later be called a "dream team". Adams signed Joe Fortenberry and Jack Ragland, both Olympians from 1936, teaming them with Chuck Hyatt, Tom Pickell, Jay Wallenstrom, and Bud Browning. Lastly he recruited local favorites, Ray Ebling and Dave Perkins, completing the team. Although the 66ers lost the championship that year, 43–38, columnist Chet Nelson called the game "the greatest game Rocky Mountain fans ever witnessed." In 1958 Boots Adams was inducted into the Helms Foundation Amateur Basketball Hall of Fame.
When Frank Phillips announced his plans to retire he personally recommended that Boots Adams should be appointed as his successor. At the 1938 stockholders and board of directors annual meeting Phillips said he wanted K.S. Adams, "the fast-talking young man from Kansas with the big ideas, [to] be elected as the new president of Phillips Petroleum Company". Adams was referred to as Frank Phillips' "visionary disciple" in Gale Morgan Kane's book, Bartlesville Means Business. The directors subsequently returned a unanimous vote in support of Phillips' recommendation.
Years as company president
When Boots Adams became Phillips' president, he immediately began implementing some of the "big ideas" Frank Phillips mentioned at the 1938 meeting. Adams wanted the company to diversify—expanding into emerging industries related to oil which he intuitively sensed as profitable—ventures he felt the company was well poised to capitalize upon. He started by purchasing mining rights for natural gas—considered cheap in 1938; practically worthless as oil producers still burned off natural gas at the wellhead, as a waste product of oil exploration. After increasing the company's share of mining reserves, Phillips reaped the benefits of the commodity's value more than doubling by the end of World War II.
Adams also elevated a start-up venture called Pace Setter Inc., Their goal was to glamorize the trendsetting benefits of constructing a more modern style home. They called it a Pace Setter home and soon after, introduced a version billed as a Price Setter—being more economical than the somewhat pricy Pace Setter. Adams purchased a Pace Setter himself and had it built as his residence in Bartlesville. The key aspect which Adams hoped would catch on was the wide range of natural gas appliances and central heating units these homes were equipped with. He knew of the profit potential that existed if the trend towards natural gas became mainstay—which did occur. The Phillips company had a "commanding share" of natural gas reserves by 1955, 13.3 trillion cubic feet worth approximately US$931,000,000 ($8,113,000,000 in 2013), more than half of Phillips' total value. Dividends increased from the reserves, satisfying stockholders and workers benefited as well when their wages increased, commensurate with the company's bottom line.
Adams sensed the need to employ a variety of scientific disciplines on the company's payroll as well. He realized that research, and technical expertise, would be necessary for a company to compete in the impending technological society that was emerging—beginning to abound and subsume the antiquated ways of the era in wane. No longer could Big Oil depend on roughnecks alone to extract wealth by the stringency of their stamina and physique. One of the newly hired professionals was Jack Graves, a geologist from the University of Oklahoma, Graves was tasked by Boots Adams to evaluate an oil formation known locally as the Mississippi Chat. Graves' evaluation resulted in a significant new discovery of oil, and Phillips continued using the results over the ensuing three years—striking a lot of new oil as a direct result.
Adams also diversified the company into the emerging petrochemical industry—an industry that would inherently increase demand and profits for oil producing companies, and generate its own revenue stream as products were developed. Here again, the newly hired chemical engineers would use a doctorate to create the company's new wealth, within modern laboratories opposed to greasy drill rigs—wearing white coats no less. Adams was particularly interested in diversifying the company into the field of synthetic polymers (specifically petroleum based polymers), having witnessed the exponential growth of companies like DuPont and Dow, while appreciating the economic value of a patent, and the exclusive right to profit which they entailed. In particular, Adams was determined to involve Phillips in the quest to develop synthetic rubber.
There were already significant advancements in place, and it was possible to produce material similar to rubber—slightly inferior in quality, as well as cost prohibitive to produce. Adams' biggest concern was the fact that there were two processes that showed an equal potential to emerge as the preferred manner of production. One would depend on distilling an additive for reactivity while the other would use a petroleum based reagent. Adams related the answer to this question to profit for the Phillips Company—plus or minus depending on which process emerged as best. Adams was determined to polymerize rubber by petrochemical means.
U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program
At the beginning of World War II the supply of natural rubber from Southeast Asia was abruptly cut off. A national emergency immediately ensued and it was unequivocally clear that the war could not be won unless enough synthetic rubber could be produced to support the war effort. The government already knew the strategic importance of rubber for a modern army and had instituted the Rubber Reserve Company (RRC) to stockpile reserves of rubber, and mitigate the consequences of being cut off from supplies. But the RRC only had one million tons of rubber in reserve while the military consumed about 600,000 tons annually. There simply was no model for victory that did not depend on a massive influx of synthetic rubber. Cost was not a limiting factor of the program—its success would only be measured by tonnage. Either sufficient quantities would be produced, giving the Allies a fighting chance, or demand would not be satisfied, guaranteeing an inability to prevail.
Boots Adams joined the consortium, dedicating the resources of Phillips Petroleum to the ennobling effort dubbed GR-S (Government Rubber-Styrene). History provides the spoiler regarding the programs outcome, but it does not lessen the magnitude of achievement surmounted by the entire group of participants. On August 29, 1998 the GR-S was officially labeled as a National Historic Chemical Landmark, with records and accolades stored in the archives of the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. The market for synthetic rubber grew to a US$60,000,000,000 ($84,079,105,074 in 2013) a year industry by the turn of the century, and Phillips, now ConocoPhillips, retained its share of that market.
Spinning off subsidiaries
In 1948 Adams began spinning off assets from Phillips' diversification, forming subsidiaries while retaining a controlling interest in the company and a sizable share of any profits realized. The first company formed was the Phillips Chemical Company and in 1951 it secured lucrative patents for its discovery of polyethylene and further development of it into high-density polyethylene resin (HDPE). The company's first tangible product derived from the patents was a durable HDPE polyolefin plastic it marketed as Marlex. Marlex was the material Wham-O contracted for use to produce its Hula Hoop, the ubiquitous toy from the 1950s that sold over 25 million units in its first four months on the market. The chemical subsidiary maintained its viability and continues returning profits to its parent company in Bartlesville as of 2013, having merged with Chevron in 2000 to form the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, a 50-50 venture splitting costs and profit shares equally. The new entity tossed a coin in its boardroom to settle on the company's name with Chevron winning the toss and electing to have their name appear first.
The Adams building
In 1949 Adams decided to consolidate the company's in house operations under one roof. The operations at that time were scattered across 38 different facilities. Adams also wanted the company's research laboratories to be fully modernized, to support the profits being generated from research and development. He contracted the architectural firm of Neville and Sharp of Kansas City, Missouri to build a 12-story, 457,000 square feet multipurpose headquarters. It occupied an entire city block in Bartlesville and was named the Adams building. The town also renamed Seventh Street, Adams Street, and in 1962, constructed the Adams Municipal Golf Course in his name. All three namesakes continue to bear Adams' name as of 2013.
Boots Adams retired from his position as company president in 1964 after 44 years with the company. The following year the city of Bartlesville organized a parade and civic holiday to honor Boots Adams on his 66th birthday—and give thanks with a public celebration. The schools in Bartlesville were closed and the town itself was officially renamed Bootsville for the entire day. A huge birthday cake was mocked up to resemble an oil storage tank, and the Phillips 66 logo "stood tall" in its own pair of boots.
Several dignitaries were present as well including President Dwight D. Eisenhower; as both a personal friend of Boots' and a U.S. President, carrying the gratitude of a nation. Eisenhower was a direct beneficiary of the GR-S program and Adams' participation in it. He was arguably the single man with "the most to lose" if GR-S had failed.
The President adopted the hobby of painting in 1950 as a relaxing way to reduce stress. He presented Boots Adams with a portrait he had recently painted—depicting Adams seated at the head of a table, as chairman of the Philips 66 board. The portrait was a prized heirloom of Adams' second wife, Dorothy Glynn, and remains in the family's care, having been passed on to the eldest daughter of Boots and Dorothy.
W. Clarke Wescoe, the University of Kansas' (KU) 10th chancellor attended as well; thanking Adams for his alumnus support, and philanthropic good will. In appreciation, Wescoe announced the University's decision to name its planned on campus residential complex, the Adams Center. Stanley Learned, Boots Adams' successor as president of Phillips, as well as a KU alumnus himself, showed his support of the university's decision by donating US$100,000 ($740,760 in 2013) for use "at the chancellors discretion".
Death and legacy
Boots Adams died March 30, 1975 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery. Under his leadership, Phillips Petroleum Company transformed from the US$317,000,000 ($5,319,988,038 in 2013) entity entrusted to him, into a US$2,000,000,000 ($15,053,648,069 in 2013) industry, with over 28,000 employees and 8,000 miles of oil pipeline.