Trevor and Jan Rees Jones
Amount donated: In excess of $200m
Philanthropic Causes: Politics, community, youth development, mental health
Region of philanthropic focus: Texas
Ranking: 37th highest donors to the 2016 American election (The Washington Post).
Net Worth: £3.6bn ($5.2bn) according to Forbes April 2016
Source of wealth: Oil and gas
Not content with their occasional one-off donations, Trevor and Jan Rees-Jones set up The Rees-Jones Foundation in 2006, as a means of taking their philanthropy more seriously and managing larger and more frequent grants. The foundation is now giving millions of dollars each year to non-profit community organisations.
The foundation’s pragmatic approach can be largely explained by Trevor Rees-Jones’ attitude to work. After convivially treading the path of his attorney father Trevor William Rees-Jones, via a B.A. at Dartmouth College and a J.D. at Southern Methodist University, he eventually made a dramatic u-turn. Whilst working as an oil and gas bankruptcy attorney in his homeland of Dallas, he imagined his shoe on the other foot, abandoning a safe career in law for a leap into oil and gas.
Following initial struggle, this bold and instinctive nature proved to be the making of Rees-Jones. For the next ten years he threw himself headfirst into wildcatting – the digging of wells in territory not known to contain oil – drilling over 400 “high-risk” wells in this time.
Off the beaten path was where Trevor Rees-Jones was most comfortable, and for all his failures there was always a breakthrough waiting. Despite this, it was a new found stability that laid the foundations for his biggest breakthrough. In 1994 Rees-Jones realised that whilst a single man could gamble all he wanted, a man who now had a wife and two children couldn’t afford to mess around. And so Chief Oil and Gas was born, focusing more on extraction from proven wells and shales, thus reducing the risk of failure.
In 1999 when the decision was made for the company to explore the Barnett Shale in the Bend Arch-Fort Worth Basin, things quite literally began to open up. This was where George Mitchell’s company were busy pioneering their bountiful hydraulic fracturing technique, more commonly known as “fracking”. Ever the opportunist, Rees-Jones in his own words became; “a flying gnat around the big elephant” and adopted the technique himself, to great success. The culmination of all this came in 2006 when Chief Oil and Gas sold their leasehold and production assets in the Barnett Shale to Devon Energy, with the pipeline and midstream assets going to Crosstex Energy for $2.63bn. That same year The Rees-Jones Foundation came into existence, causing Trevor and Jan’s focus to shift.
“Makin’ money’s fun, but givin’ money is always as much or more fun,” – this statement from the 64 year old CEO of Chief Oil and Gas sums up the attitude of the foundation. Trevor and Jan are passionate community types, keeping donations within the confines of the land in which they dig. Since its inception, the foundation has made a host of substantial grants to local projects, including $25m to Parkland Memorial Hospital, $25m to The Dallas Museum of Nature and Science, $5m to The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Centre and $25 to The Boy Scouts of America’s Circle Ten Council – the last of which presumably having something to do with Trevor Rees-Jones being an Eagle Scout himself as a teenager.
It’s these kind of personal connections that drive the majority of their donations, along with strong religious values. Trevor and Jan attend The Highland Park Presbyterian Church, and in a 2009 letter regarding their foundation the couple declared: “We have always known that our lives have been blessed by god beyond anything we deserved. As custodians of what he provided we are called to share our resources with those around us who lack the same resources.”
On top of community aid, Trevor and Jan have also been known to donate to political campaigns, specifically to Republican candidates. This has included $2m to the presidential candidacy of Jeb Bush and $1m to American Crossroads.
The spirit of the Rees-Jones family can be condensed into one moment during Trevor’s 60th birthday party. Jan had arranged for his long-term celebrity crush – actress Heather Locklear – to fly out specifically for the event, and much to his astonishment she turned up. With such unrestrained gestures as this, it’s difficult to predict just where their determination will take them next.