George Kaiser

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George Bruce Kaiser
Born (1942-07-29) July 29, 1942 (age 80)[1][2]
Alma mater

George Bruce Kaiser (born July 29, 1942) is an American billionaire businessman. He is the chairman of BOK Financial Corporation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As of September 2021, he is the 476th richest person in the world[1] and was, in 2012, one of the top 50 American philanthropists.[3]

Early life[edit]

Kaiser was born on July 29, 1942 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[1][2][4] He attended Central High School in Tulsa.[5] He earned a BA from Harvard College in 1964 and an MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1966.[6] He briefly considered joining the U.S. Foreign Service, but instead returned to Tulsa in 1966 to work for his father. Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. was created in the 1940s by Kaiser's uncle and parents, Jewish[7][8] refugees from Nazi Germany who settled in Oklahoma.[9][10]

George's father, Herman George Kaiser, had been an attorney in the district of the Kammergericht in Berlin until 1933, when he was dismissed by the Nazis because he was Jewish. He and his wife Kate then moved to Rostock where Herman Kaiser worked with his father-in-law Max Samuel's EMSA-Werke company. Herman Kaiser escaped to England in 1937 and his wife and daughter came over in September the following year. In 1940 all three emigrated to the United States.[11] They settled in Tulsa, where Herman's aunt and uncle already lived. Herman joined the uncle's oil drilling business. Their son was born in Tulsa.[4] Herman died in Tulsa on October 14, 1992 at the age of 88.[12]


Oil and gas[edit]

Kaiser took control of Kaiser-Francis Oil Company in 1969, after his father had a heart attack. Kaiser-Francis was a little-known, privately owned oil prospecting and drilling company at the time. Under George's management, it became the 23rd largest nonpublic energy exploration company in the U.S. by 2010. In that year the company earned about $217 million, based on estimates by Bloomberg News.[13]


In 1990, Kaiser bought Bank of Oklahoma out of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation receivership. Despite BOK's depressed state, it was rich enough to land Kaiser on the Forbes 400 at one stroke. He has since expanded BOK from a 20-branch company located solely in Oklahoma into a $23.9 billion bank with operations in nine states. He owns 61.5 percent of BOK.[13] As of 2007, Kaiser's ownership interests in BOK were worth $2.3 billion. In 2008, with an estimated current net worth of around $12 billion, he was ranked by Forbes as the 20-richest person in America and the richest person in Oklahoma. In March 2009, in the face of the general world economic downturn, Forbes reported that Kaiser's net worth had dropped to $9 billion, ranking him in a tie for 43rd-richest person in the world.[14] It has since risen to $9.8 billion as the markets recovered.[1] As of 2019, George's net worth was estimated at $7.6 billion.[15]

Professional sports[edit]

In April 2014, Kaiser bought Tom L. Ward's interest in The Professional Basketball Club, the investment group headed by Clay Bennett that owns the Oklahoma City Thunder of the National Basketball Association, as well as its Oklahoma City Blue minor league affiliate.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Kaiser's nephew is actor Tim Blake Nelson.[17]

Kaiser has been married twice:

  • His first wife was Betty Eudene. Betty was a prominent literacy advocate volunteering more than 7,000 hours with the Tulsa City-County Library's literacy program. Betty died in 2002.[18] The couple had three children: Philip, Leah and Emily. They also have five grandchildren: Shai, Eytan, Aidan, Ilan, and Ben.[18]
  • His second wife is Myra Block, who is a curator, authority on fiber art and founder of 108|Contemporary.[5] She is the daughter of Tulsa oilman and philanthropist Charles Goodall,[5] known for establishing the small cities program on the Council of Jewish Federations.[19] The couple divides their time between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and San Francisco, California.

Kaiser typically works 70 hours a week in his office, spending half his time on philanthropy and the rest on banking, energy and other business interests.[5]

Kaiser is affiliated with the Egalitarian Conservative Congregation B'Nai Emunah.[5]

Kaiser avoids publicity, does not attend society functions and hardly ever gives interviews. While he owns homes in Tulsa and San Francisco, he is said to own no vacation homes, airplanes or yachts.[5]


Kaiser is listed third on BusinessWeek's 2008 list of the top 50 American philanthropists, behind Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.[20][21] Among his prominent causes is fighting childhood poverty through the George Kaiser Family Foundation; he is also a major benefactor to the Jewish community in Oklahoma, which numbers about 5,000 people.[9][22] He has been notably active in the promotion of early childhood education.[4][23][24][25] Kaiser's family foundation is also the largest contributor to the Tulsa Community Foundation, which Kaiser established in 1998 because of his perception that Tulsa's historical dependence on unorganized private giving from its wealthy families was no longer effective. Beginning with gifts from seventeen local philanthropists, by 2006 this foundation had grown to become the largest community foundation in the United States, and now has approximately four billion dollars in assets.[26][27][28][29][30]

Kaiser's family foundation funded the National Energy Policy Institute, a non-profit energy policy organization located at the University of Tulsa whose president since its inception is former Alaska governor Tony Knowles.[31] and whose director was former U.S. Representative Brad Carson.[32] In January 2009, Kaiser drew attention after he told a committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives that the state should eliminate or reduce tax incentives for the oil and gas industry, and instead use the money for health care or education programs or for tax cuts for other taxpayers.[33][34]

The foundation was instrumental in the funding of Tulsa's Woody Guthrie Center, which opened in 2013, and then in facilitating (together with the University of Tulsa) the acquisition in 2016 of Bob Dylan's 6,000-piece archive, which will be maintained by archivists at the university's Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum.[35]

The Kaiser family foundation is responsible for the initial funding leading to Tulsa's A Gathering Place. This park is the largest privately funded park project in the United States. The foundation's donation amounted to $350 million.[36]

Kaiser's family foundation was a large investor in the now-defunct Solyndra Corporation. The company has revealed that the foundation invested $340 million in the venture in July 2009, and subsequently gave preferential consideration to a plant site proposed for an economically depressed area of North Tulsa. The plant was never built and Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in Fremont, California on September 6, 2011.[13]

Kaiser is among those who have made The Giving Pledge, a commitment to give away half of his wealth for charitable purposes.[37][38][39][40]

Kaiser's philanthropy focuses on stimulating economic growth and combatting poverty with investments in early education and health care for people who need it the most. He is a strong proponent of programs like Early Head Start and Educare. An article in Forbes quoted him as saying "Those who have won the ovarian lottery by being born in an advanced society to loving parents have a special obligation to help restore the American Dream."[4]

The Kaiser foundation supports the training of teachers specializing in early education by donating $1.2 million per year to Tulsa Community College and Oklahoma University to fund training programs. It also reimburses the students' tuition if they work in Oklahoma for four years after graduating. The foundation has also brought at least 150 young teachers to Tulsa through the Teach for America program.[4]

Kaiser learned that poverty has a major effect on life expectancy. Before he became involved in funding health care, he was informed that there was a 14-year difference in life expectancy between children born in richest and poorest ZIP codes. Kaiser concluded that too few doctors were available to treat the poorer people. His foundation then donated $62 million to the University of Oklahoma to create a School of Community Medicine at its Tulsa campus. The money supplemented a $20 million donation by the Schusterman family. The grants reimburse all tuition for students who graduate as doctors and who work for five years in the community.[4]

Kaiser's philosophy about anonymous charitable giving reportedly is, ""Naming rights are a seductive philanthropic inducement, yet more anonymous operational support may better advance the charitable purpose,"[5]

Political activities[edit]

A Wall Street Journal article reported in 2004 that campaign contribution records showed that Kaiser had donated $10,000 to Democratic Party political candidates for every $1,000 that he gave Republican Party candidates.[9]

Kaiser was a fundraiser for the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and functioned as a campaign bundler for Obama.[41] At one 2007 event for Obama, he raised more than $250,000.

A 2011 article by Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation analyzed Kaiser's business activities and his use of legal tax avoidance strategies, including how during the 1980s bust in the oil industry in Oklahoma and Texas, Kaiser bought up struggling energy companies whose losses provided him with tax deductions that effectively offset his own income and left him with little or no tax liability.[42][unreliable source?][43]


  1. ^ a b c d "George Kaiser – Forbes". Forbes. March 9, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
  2. ^ a b George B. Kaiser, The Oklahoman (accessed 28 February 2013).
  3. ^ "The 50 Top American Philanthropists", Bloomberg BusinessWeek website (accessed January 27, 2012).
  4. ^ a b c d e f Christopher Helman, "George Kaiser's $10 Billion Bet", Forbes, September 21, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Tulsa World: "George Kaiser makes mark on Tulsa" By Ziva Branstetter October 16, 2011
  6. ^ George B. Kaiser bio
  7. ^ Holocaust: Records from Ten Ghettos Ghetto: Lodz Name: Dina Laja Wertheim Gender: F (Female) Birth Date: 1886 Profession: Kaufman (Merchant) Address: 4 Flat 2ndhcidjdmGasse Residence: Lodz, Poland Deportation Type: AUSG Deportation Date: March 25, 1942 Deportation Transport: TR 33
  8. ^ The Houston Jewish Herald-Voice Index to Vitals and Family Events, 1908–2007 Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Name: Ruth Feldgreber [Ruth Wertheim] Maiden Name: Wertheim Event: Death Published Date: August 17, 1994 Volume / Number: 86 / 22 Page & Column: p34c1 Reported in: Houston Event Date: August 14, 1994 Event Place: Tulsa OK Parents: Late Hugo & Dina Wertheim Funeral Date: August 17, 1994 Age: 72 Other Families: MARKOWITZ / KAISE
  9. ^ a b c Russel Gold, "Oil billionaire takes a gamble to fix natural-gas shortage," Archived October 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2004.
  10. ^ The Jerusalem Post: "The world's 50 Richest Jews: 11–20" September 7, 2010
  11. ^ "Herman Kaiser Dies; Services Set Sunday". Tulsa World.
  12. ^ "Herman Kaiser Dies; Services Set Sunday." Tulsa World. October 15, 1992. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  13. ^ a b c David Mildenberg and Peter Robison, "Obama-Backing Billionaire’s Charity Sought Solyndra in Tulsa", Bloomberg Businessweek, September 26, 2011.
  14. ^ "The World's Billionaires: #43 George Kaiser", Forbes, March 11, 2009.
  15. ^ "George Kaiser". Forbes. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  16. ^ Adam Wilmoth, "George Kaiser buys Thunder stake: Tulsa businessman George B. Kaiser is the newest co-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder after buying out the ownership interest of Tom Ward." The Oklahoman, April 18, 2014.
  17. ^ Bloom, Nate (August 6, 2015). "celebrity jews".
  18. ^ a b Obituary: KAISER, Betty obit d. 2 MAY 2002 Tulsa Co., OK May 2, 2002
  19. ^ Jewish Virtual Library: "OKLAHOMA". Retrieved May 3, 2013
  20. ^ "The 50 Top American Philanthropists,"[permanent dead link] BusinessWeek, December 8, 2008.
  21. ^ "Warren Buffett Tops BusinessWeek's Annual Ranking of 'The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists," Archived May 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine BusinessWeek press release, November 25, 2008.
  22. ^ "25 Billionaires and Millionaires That Became Philanthropists," Business Pundit, August 4, 2008.
  23. ^ David L. Kirp, "You're Doing Fine, Oklahoma! The universal pre-K movement takes off in unlikely places," Archived August 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine The American Prospect, November 1, 2004.
  24. ^ David Leonhardt, "Bridging Gaps Early On in Oklahoma," The New York Times, February 7, 2007.
  25. ^ "George Kaiser Speech on Childhood Education," The New York Times, February 7, 2007.
  26. ^ Ginnie Graham, "Community foundation gains stature", Tulsa World, August 27, 2006.
  27. ^ Matt Cauthron, "Officials expect Tulsa Community Foundation to be largest in nation", The Journal Record, May 10, 2006.
  28. ^ P. J. Lassek, "City among beneficiaries enjoying Tulsa Community Foundation's millions", Tulsa World, January 3, 2011.
  29. ^ "Top Funders: 25 Largest Community Foundations by Asset Size", Foundation Center website (accessed January 26, 2011).
  30. ^ "Philanthropy 400 Data: Community Foundations", Chronicle of Philanthropy website (accessed January 26, 2011).
  31. ^ Rod Walton, "Green group to locate at TU," Tulsa World, March 11, 2009.
  32. ^ Rod Walton, "Ex-lawmaker to head TU energy institute: Brad Carson will direct NEPI, founded with a Kaiser gift", Tulsa World, January 26, 2010.
  33. ^ Barbara Hoberock, "Kaiser urges shift in state tax breaks," Tulsa World, January 23, 2009.
  34. ^ "Digger George: Kaiser wants plug on energy incentives," The Oklahoman, January 25, 2009.
  35. ^ "How the U. of Tulsa Landed Bob Dylan’s ‘Secret Archive’", The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4, 2016.
  36. ^ "Public Input Wanted For Tulsa Building Project Along Riverside Drive". Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  37. ^ Gavin Off, "Kaiser, Pickens pledge to donate half their wealth", Tulsa World, August 4, 2010.
  38. ^ Ashli Sims, "Kaiser, Pickens Take The Giving Pledge", KOTV, August 5, 2010.
  39. ^ George Kaiser, "Duty bound to help those left behind", Tulsa World, August 8, 2010.
  40. ^ "The Giving Pledge". Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  41. ^ Anburajan, Aswini (March 28, 2008). "Fact check: Obama and oil". MSNBC. Archived from the original on February 21, 2013. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  42. ^ Bill Allison, "Barack Obama's other billionaire: How George Kaiser turned Oklahoma into his personal tax haven", Sunlight Foundation, October 13, 2011.
  43. ^ "Report: Kaiser paid minimal taxes". KRMG Radio.