Getty Oil: Pennzoil, Texaco, and the Takeover Battle That Made History

There are takeover battles and takeover battles. The Getty Oil-Pennzoil-Texaco battle in the 1980s was one of the ugliest and most litigious, finally resulting (thanks to Carl Icahn’s shuttle diplomacy) in Texaco, on the day that it emerged from bankruptcy protection, owning Getty Oil and settling the Pennzoil lawsuit against it for $3 billion. In 1987 Steve Coll wrote a masterful account of the maneuvering for Getty Oil by a large, some still well known, cast of characters. It has recently been republished—and is still a compelling read.

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Coll, currently a staff writer for The New Yorker and dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, is the author of seven books, several of them winners of major prizes. A seasoned journalist who spent two decades at The Washington Post, Coll knows how to keep the reader engaged in a story, even one that’s long (in this case nearly 500 pages) and complicated. For one thing, he uses a lot of dialogue. And he keeps the players in the drama, such as the “flaky” Gordon Getty, front and center.

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I’m very glad that The Taking of Getty Oil was republished and that a new generation of business people and investors can make its story part of their knowledge base.

The Taking Of Getty Oil - Review

The Taking of Getty Oil: Pennzoil, Texaco, and the Takeover Battle That Made History by Steve Coll

A larger-than-life account of family, greed, and a courtroom showdown between Big Oil rivals from the New York Times–bestselling author of Private Empire.

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Steve Coll is renowned for “his ability to take complicated, significant business stories and turn them into quick-reading engaging narratives” (Chicago Tribune). Coll is at the height of his talents in this “riveting” tale of one of the most spectacular—and catastrophic—corporate takeovers of all time (Newsday).

As the head of a sprawling oil empire, J. Paul Getty was once the world’s richest man. But by 1984, eight years after his death, Getty’s legacy was in tatters: His children were locked in a bitter feud over the family trust and the company he founded was riven by boardroom turmoil. Then Pennzoil made an agreement with Getty’s son, Gordon, to purchase Getty Oil. It was a done deal—until Texaco swooped in to claim the $10 billion prize.

What followed was an epic legal battle that pit “good ole boy” J. Hugh Liedtke of Pennzoil against the Wall Street brokers behind Texaco’s offer. The scandalous details of the case would shock the business world and change the landscape of the oil industry forever.

With a large cast of colorful characters and the dramatic pacing of a novel, The Taking of Getty Oil is a “suspenseful” and “always intriguing” chronicle of one of the most fascinating chapters in American corporate history (Publishers Weekly).

More on the book

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The financial disarray in which J. Paul Getty's death in 1976 left his family and the Getty Oil Company has led to sibling contention, corporate intrigue, courtroom high drama and, most recently, to an unprecedented $11-billion damage judgment over the Texaco-Pennzoil acquisition. Using "reconstructed dialogue" and suspenseful narrative, Washington Post financial writer Coll spins the story of family trustee Gordon Getty who sows confusion; a beset Getty Oil management; Texas oil-patch "good ole boy" Hugh Liedtke of Pennzoil fulfilling his dream to buyout Getty, only to be outmaneuvered by Texaco's Wall Street merger-brokersbut eventually winning in a down-home jury trial the biggest civil monetary damage award ever. Coll's behind-the-scenes account of investment banking and legal high jinks is at times startling and always intriguing. Major ad/promo; first serial to the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The struggle between Pennzoil and Texaco to take over Getty Oil has become a popular subject. Like Thomas Petzinger's Oil & Honor ( LJ 6/15/87), this business history, with its large cast of players, reads like a novel. Relying primarily upon interviews, depositions, and oral testimony, Coll uses dialogue to enliven this account of how Pennzoil's attempt to resolve a Getty family feud resulted in Texaco, one of America's biggest corporations, filing for bankruptcy. This well-researched and superbly written book recounts events through early 1987. Highly recommended for public, academic, and business libraries. Leonard Grundt, Nassau Communty Coll. Lib., Garden City, N.Y.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Article by Brenda Jubin, Reading the Markets