Williams cuts a big swath, trails some red ink

The Williams Companies are such a strong presence here that some Tulsans have jokingly suggested the city's name should be changed to Williamsburg.

Its headquarters building, the 52-story Bank of Oklahoma tower, is the largest office building in the state. It's also the focal point of the Williams Center, a major downtown redevelopment project that will ultimately comprise 12 blocks of a once-deteriorating neighborhood.

This center, developed by the Williams Companies' real estate arm, includes a new Westin-operated hotel and a retail shopping mall.

Other Williams Realty projects around the country include the Tabor Center in Denver, also embracing a Westin hotel, as well as a shopping mall operated by the Rouse Company, and Independence Center in Charlotte, N.C., another hotel-office-retail center.

For the time being, however, the Williams Companies fit into a pattern seen all around Tulsa: Even as the impressive new buildings go up, earnings are falling, and in some cases, red ink is being splashed across the balance sheets. It's a reflection of the suddenness with which Tulsa has been hit by a downturn.

Williams has five operating companies: Agrico Chemical Company, Williams Exploration, Williams Natural Gas, Williams Pipeline Company, and Edgcomb Metals Company. In addition, the firm has a 27.5 percent interest in Peabody Coal Company, the largest coal producer in the United States.

Williams employs 1,600 people in the Tulsa area, where the annual payroll is

From 1965 through 1981, the Williams Companies had an impressive record.

Assets rose from $53 million to $2.4 billion, revenues grew from $35 million to $2 billion, and net income went up from $8 million to $110 million.

It developed into a leading worldwide manufacturer and marketer of chemical fertilizer, a leading pipeline transporter of petroleum products, and a growing developer and producer of oil and natural gas.

The Williams purchase of Great Lakes Pipeline in 1966 is seen by one long-time Tulsan as ''a classic case of the little fish swallowing up a big one.''

In 1980 net income doubled from the previous year to reach $138.7 million.

But last year a poor showing by Agrico knocked net income down to $109.5 million. Although this was still the third-best year in company history, chairman Joseph H. Williams said the company was surprised by the sharpness of the drop last year.

It began in the international phosphate business (the fertilizer industry is down because the farming sector is depressed), and it resulted in decreases in net income of 21 percent and in earnings per share of 28 percent from the 1980 records.

For the third quarter ended Sept. 30, the Williams Companies had unaudited net income of $3.4 million, or 11 cents a share, compared with $13.9 million, or 46 cents a share in last year's third quarter.

For the first nine months, the companies had a net income of $28.7 million, or 96 cents a share, compared with $103 million, or $3.46 a share in the same period of 1981.

Agrico, the firm's major profit center, had a third-quarter operations loss of $14.4 million, compared with an operating loss of $19.4 million in the same quarter last year. In the first nine months, Agrico's operating loss amounted to 54.2 million.

''With interest rates coming down and inflation abating, conditions should begin to improve, but no significant change is foreseen in the balance of this year,'' the chairman said. Agrico is expected to report a substantial operations loss for 1982, he added.

The Williams Companies go back to 1908, when two brothers, David R. and S. Miller Williams Jr., were sent by their employer from Kansas City to Fort Smith, Ark., to begin a paving job. When the bond issue for the project was delayed, the contractor decided to move on.

But the brothers persuaded their boss to accept their note for the equipment and supplies, agreeing to perform the city's work piecemeal as funds permitted. The company they formed was the predecessor to the Williams Companies.

In their 1981 annual report, Chairman Williams and President Barry J. Galt said: ''Although we are confident that our long-range strategy is both appropriate and effective, we do believe that we have pushed the balance in favor of wealth accumulation about as far as we should for the time being, making it timely to shift the emphasis more toward generation of reportable profits and improved return on capital.''

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