Philip Anschutz (1939–) is a Denver-based businessman and Colorado’s richest person, with a wealth estimated at more than $10 billion. He has garnered comparisons to Gilded Age financier J. P. Morgan for his success across a wide range of businesses—oil and gas, railroads, telecommunications, sports, and entertainment—and to Warren Buffett for his relatively modest lifestyle. Today his best-known business is the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which owns arenas, sports teams, and music festivals around the world. In Colorado, Anschutz’s business empire includes the Broadmoor, the Colorado Springs Gazette and Denver Gazette newspapers, and the sixty-square-mile Eagles Nest Ranch east of Greeley.
A devout Christian, Anschutz is known for his contributions to conservative political causes and for his philanthropy, perhaps most notably to the University of Colorado, whose Anschutz Medical Campus bears his name. Anschutz also harbors a deep love of the American West; his collection of Western art, considered one of the finest in existence, is on display at the American Museum of Western Art in Denver.
Philip Frederick Anschutz was born on December 28, 1939, in Russell, Kansas, to Marian and Fred Anschutz. His father was a wildcatter, or an independent driller of exploratory oil wells. The family soon moved to Hays and then to Wichita, where Philip attended high school. He went on to the University of Kansas, where he completed a finance degree in 1961.
1960s–70s: Oil and Gas
After graduating from college, Anschutz intended to start law school at the University of Virginia. Just before his first semester started, however, he returned home to take over his father’s company, Circle A Drilling, which was struggling as a result of his father’s alcoholism and other health problems. Anschutz turned the company around and moved to Denver to start his own oil business, the Anschutz Corporation, in 1965.
The central story of Anschutz’s early career in oil concerns a fire that broke out soon after his first big find near Gillette, Wyoming. With no money to pay famous oil firefighter Red Adair to put out the blaze, Anschutz instead sold the rights to film the fire to Universal Pictures, which happened to be making a biopic about Adair. Anschutz then used part of his $100,000 fee to pay Adair to douse the flames and invested the rest in more oilfields.
By the mid-1970s, Anschutz had acquired oil fields in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Texas, as well as uranium and coal mines and cattle ranches. At the end of the decade, new seismic drilling technology revealed a billion-barrel oilfield under the huge Anschutz Ranch he owned with his father on the Utah-Wyoming border. In 1982 he sold part of the field to Mobil for $500 million; this gave him the capital to seed the rest of his business career.
1980s–90s: Railroads and Telecom
Anschutz remains involved in the oil and gas industry that gave him his start, but by the 1980s he was branching out into other businesses. He saw an opportunity in declining old railroads, which owned tons of land and whose operations, he thought, could easily be improved. In 1984 he bought Rio Grande Industries, owner of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, for $90 million, and four years later he acquired the Southern Pacific Railroad for more than $1 billion. He sold Southern Pacific’s surplus land (mostly in California and Texas) for some $2 billion and invested the money in new tracks and locomotives. By 1996 he was able to sell Southern Pacific to the Union Pacific Railroad for $5.4 billion, netting more than $1 billion for himself while also becoming one of Union Pacific’s largest shareholders.
Meanwhile, as the internet began to take off, Anschutz had been using his railroad rights-of-way to install fiber optic cables for telecommunications companies—and, while he was at it, laid extra cables for himself. In 1995 he used that fiber network to spin off Southern Pacific Telecommunications as Qwest Communications, which became a darling of the late-nineties dot-com bubble. At Qwest’s height, in 2000, Anschutz was worth some $15 billion. But Qwest’s stock crashed when the dot-com bubble popped later that year, and several company executives were convicted of fraud and insider trading. Anschutz was not charged with any wrongdoing, but in 2002 Fortune named him America’s “greediest executive.” Qwest was eventually acquired by CenturyLink in 2011.
1990s–2010s: Sports and Entertainment
As Anschutz built up Qwest’s network, he also began to get involved in the sports and entertainment industries, perhaps to ensure that he would have plenty of content for Qwest to deliver. One early sign of Anschutz’s interest in sports franchises was his involvement in establishing Major League Soccer (MLS), which started in 1996. When MLS was struggling in the early 2000s, Anschutz almost single-handedly kept it going by operating six of the league’s ten teams—including the Colorado Rapids, which he sold to Stan Kroenke in 2003. In 2008 the new MLS championship trophy was named for Anschutz. Today he still owns the Los Angeles Galaxy, which plays at the Anschutz-owned Dignity Health Sports Park.
Anschutz became involved in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, after he failed in a bid to turn Southern Pacific land in Denver’s Central Platte Valley into a vast sports and entertainment complex. Instead he bought the Los Angeles Kings in 1995 and set to work on building an arena in a city that hadn’t seen a new sports venue since the 1960s. The result, Staples Center, opened in 1999. It is now home to the Kings, the Lakers (Anschutz owns one-quarter of the team), the LA Clippers, and the WNBA’s LA Sparks (Anschutz has a minority stake). In the 2000s, he added a development called L.A. Live next to the Staples Center; it includes hotels, restaurants, theaters, and the Grammy Museum.
Meanwhile, Anschutz started a movie-production company, now known as Walden Media, which focuses on family-friendly movies with a strong moral message. Its hits have included the Chronicles of Narnia series and Ray. He also assembled several movie-theater chains into the Regal Entertainment Group, which became the world’s largest theater chain at the time. (It was sold for a reported $3.6 billion in 2017.)
All of these sports and entertainment ventures are under the umbrella of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which Anschutz first started to help provide a stream of events in the Staples Center. Today AEG owns dozens of venues and more sports teams than any other entity in the world. AEG’s event-promotion arm, AEG Presents, is second in the world behind Live Nation; it has organized concerts for pop stars around the world, including Michael Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It” comeback tour in 2009, and operates festivals such as Coachella. The company also launched a ticketing arm, AXS, to compete with Ticketmaster.
2000s–2010s: News and Hotels
Despite the overall decline of newspapers in the 2000s, Anschutz has steadily added news outlets to his portfolio of businesses, perhaps because he sees them as undervalued assets that can also push a conservative political agenda. He first bought the San Francisco Examiner in 2004, then used the Examiner name for a new paper in Washington, DC, as well as a network of local news websites. In 2009 he bought the conservative political magazine The Weekly Standard from Rupert Murdoch. After reports that Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group wanted to make the magazine more partisan and was displeased with the editors’ opposition to Donald Trump, Clarity shuttered the publication at the end of 2018. In Colorado Anschutz owns the Colorado Springs Gazette, which he acquired in 2012, as well as the Denver Gazette, which he launched in 2020 after years of rumors that he might revive the Rocky Mountain News.
Most recently, Anschutz has invested in iconic American hotels. In 2008 he bought Xanterra, which operates lodges and other concessions in many national parks. In 2010 he acquired a stake in Sea Island, a historic resort on the Georgia coast. A year later, he also bought the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, where he had spent time with his family as a child. At both the Broadmoor and Sea Island, where he attained full control in 2016, Anschutz has invested millions of dollars in upgrades at the main properties while also adding new wilderness or adventure experiences, such as Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp on top of Cheyenne Mountain, fly-fishing camp in the Tarryall Mountains, and zip lines at Seven Falls Canyon. He has placed the two properties in a 100-year trust to ensure that they stay in his family with an emphasis on long-term stewardship rather than quick profits.
Personal Life, Politics, and Philanthropy
Anschutz met his wife, Nancy, when he was sixteen; they married in 1968 and have three children. He keeps a low profile and is sometimes called “reclusive” because he rarely speaks to journalists and has given only a few press conferences in nearly sixty years as a businessman. A longtime Denver resident, he lives modestly by billionaire standards, driving himself, wearing blue jeans and a Timex watch, and often hanging out at his hotels or watching his sports teams without being recognized. He attends an evangelical Presbyterian church, and his Christian faith has influenced his political donations and philanthropy.
Anschutz is known for his conservative politics, particularly in the cultural realm of “morality” and “decency.” This is apparent in some of his business enterprises, such as his production company’s emphasis on family-friendly fare, and is even more clear in his political contributions. In the early 1990s, he donated to Colorado for Family Values, which backed Amendment 2, the measure that prohibited antidiscrimination protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals before the US Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.
Anschutz has funded the antievolution Discovery Institute, the promarriage Institute for American Values, and morality groups such as the Media Research Center and Morality in Media, which campaign against what they consider indecency on television and the internet. He also has a relationship with conservative Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, who represented Anschutz and his companies in the early 2000s and later received a letter of support from Anschutz for a federal judgeship in 2006.
Anschutz’s Christian faith and conservative politics also play a role in some of his philanthropic giving. His charitable enterprises include the Foundation for a Better Life (makers of the “Pass It On” billboards) and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, both of which advance his goal of increasing civility in American society. Most of Anschutz’s philanthropy is done through the Anschutz Foundation, which he established in 1984. Today the foundation has more than $1 billion in assets and disburses more than $50 million annually in grants to organizations such as the University of Colorado, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Mile High United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, the Denver Art Museum, Kent Denver School, and the US Olympic Museum and Paralympic Museum. Anschutz has given more than $100 million to the University of Colorado’s medical campus in Aurora, which was named for him in 2006.
Finally, Anschutz sees himself as a man of the American West and harbors a deep love of the region’s lore and land, much of which he owns. He is estimated to be the twenty-fourth-largest landowner in the United States. In addition to the 60-square-mile Eagles Nest Ranch in Colorado, which he acquired from Peter Coors, he owns a 500-square-mile cattle ranch in central Wyoming, part of which he wants to make into the world’s largest wind farm. Anschutz also has one of the finest collections of Western art in private hands. He made his first major purchases in 1972, when he traded oil leases for paintings, and now owns more than 600 works by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western artists. In the late 1990s, he restored the historic Navarre Building in downtown Denver and hung his collection there; it is now open to the public as the American Museum of Western Art—The Anschutz Collection.
In 2015 Anschutz was the National Western Stock Show’s Citizen of the West. He has recently written two volumes called Out Where the West Begins, which consist of a series of profiles of important Western leaders in business and other fields.