In Market: West Texas Investors Club is the rare real reality show

🕐 5 min read


We’re different.

Texans are cut from a different cloth.

I can offer plenty of proof, but I’ll focus on one example.

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If you’ve ever watched ABC’s Shark Tank, you get the standard boilerplate entrepreneur investment story featuring men and women in sharp suits with creases that could give you a paper cut, many looking like they stepped out of a copy of Fortune magazine.

Head up your television’s dial to CNBC on Tuesday night and check out West Texas Investors Club at 9 p.m. It’s not Shark Tank. Suits? Maybe worn by an over-ambitious entrepreneur, who may get chided a bit for wearing such an outfit in Midland. Midland? Sure, you can wear a suit, but you’d better accent it with a pair of boots or a bolo tie, preferably with a slide featuring a scorpion encased in Lucite.

The show features multimillionaires Rooster McConaughey and Butch Gilliam and they won’t be mistaken for Mark Cuban or Mr. Wonderful. The two invite entrepreneurs to come down to windy, sandy Midland and make their case for investment.

A little background on the principals:

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• Mike “Rooster” McConaughey started working with his father at age 12 in the oil fields of Texas. He said he lives by the motto “high risk means high reward.” The brother of a certain well-known Texas actor with the first name Matthew, McConaughey never finished college but joined the millionaire club at age 30 in the oil pipe business.

One year – he says “two days” – later, he lost it all, learning the first of many valuable lessons he put to use later on.

“If you think you’ve made it, you won’t have it long,” he says.

• Gilliam dropped out of high school at 15 years old to work at Curley’s, his father’s machine shop. He later sold Curley’s for a significant profit, but his biggest deal came in 2004, when he purchased the patent on a relatively obscure flush-joint connection for $200,000 – and then sold it for $100 million in 2006. Nice work if you can get it. He still likes the smell of a working machine shop and is currently the proud co-owner of Patriot Premium Threading Services in West Texas. “We’re small but we’re kicking the big boys’ ass,” he says with obvious delight.

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 Longtime friends, Gilliam and McConaughey began West Texas Ltd. to pass along some of their own secrets for success by investing in – and giving advice to – others.

Unlike the white collar denizens of Shark Tank, I can relate to Gilliam and McConaughey. The smell of a working machine shop can still bring me to tears, mixing nostalgia for my youth with memories of my grandparents’ business on Hemphill Street, where grease, oil, welding and sweat were the currency of the day.

Did we enjoy it? Apparently so. When my nephew Chris was 5 years old, he spent a day watching us work, attaching trailer hitches, welding, etc. At the end of the day, he said, “Are ya’ll working or playing?”

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has a fondness for the type of business – or is that bidness? – practiced on the show. I met with Gilliam and McConaughey earlier this month and they said the Fort Worth-Dallas market is numero uno for their show.

“I think it’s because people here can relate to how Rooster and Butch do business,” says Charlie Ebersol, the show’s producer.

Rooster interrupts: “It’s because here you can still do business with a handshake and it means something. Hell, our contract is only three pages, that’s nothin’ in show business.”

Ebersol backed him up. “Most TV contracts are like this,” he says, indicating a stack of papers the height of a Tom Clancy hardback.

The show began its second season June 7 on CNBC. Check it out. It’s fun, informative and it might even bring a tear to your eye. These guys offer something rarely taught in an MBA program: They speak from the heart to these investors – often with a can of beer in their hand.

And it’s not all about the almighty dollar.

“Sometimes, they don’t need us for money,” says Gilliam. “They just need our support. That can be more important than any investment.”

Rooster, can of beer in hand, nods in agreement.

“When they leave, the most important thing is to help them help themselves,” Rooster says.

If you grew up in Texas, you’ll recognize where Butch and Rooster are coming from. If not, it’s time for a lesson in Texas business – or bidness – culture.

In the June 7 episode, a young entrepreneur pitches Butch and Rooster an electronic beer tap that promises to reduce keg waste.

“That’s a sin in my book,” says Rooster, punching the table with his finger for emphasis. “A straight-up sin.”

The beer-loving investors have high hopes, but as they dig deeper they find they find that this youngster may not be everything he says he is. Are these guys a little crazy? Sure, like a fox.

Just to get in the mood, you might want to keep a few cans of cold Miller Lite handy. It’s Rooster’s favorite beverage; heck, it may be his favorite liquid. He named his son Miller Lyte, I kid you not. Yep, Rooster is cut from a different cloth. Kind of like Texas, you know?

Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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