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Don't count on Anderson retiring any time soon Add to ...

J.C. Anderson, the colourful chairman and chief executive officer of Anderson Exploration for the past 33 years, is going out with a bang -- for now.

Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy's $5.3-billion offer for Anderson lit a fire yesterday under the entire oil and gas sector in Canada. Devon is plunking down $40 a share in cold, hard cash for Calgary-based Anderson, or a 52-per-cent premium over its close Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Other Canadian gas producers, which had been in a deep funk because of plunging natural gas prices, got a big lift yesterday from Devon's friendly deal to acquire Anderson.

And so the reputation of Mr. Anderson as the consummate oilman grows stronger. Even with the recent slide in natural gas markets, it turns out that he placed the right bet by focusing on one commodity -- 77 per cent of Anderson's revenue came from natural gas in the second quarter.

By attracting $40 a share, Mr. Anderson garnered a price that surpassed his company's record high of $38.89 in April, or a valuation that reflected the peak of the natural gas market.

The Nebraska-born Mr. Anderson, who turns 71 this month, has worked hard over the years to get his company into top shape.

Mr. Anderson celebrated his 65th birthday by outmanoeuvring his former employer, Amoco Canada, to win a takeover battle in 1995 for Home Oil.

"I'm just a dirty-fingered, old engineer trying to run an oil company," he told me days before Anderson took over Home Oil. "You betcha I'm going to see it through. I'm a lucky guy. I get to do something I like every day. I've got a lot of energy."

True to his word, Mr. Anderson has worked well past retirement age. Last year, he outwitted Dallas-based Hunt Oil to snap up Ulster Petroleums. Earlier this year, his folksy charm helped persuade Hong Kong-based shareholders of Numac Energy to tender their stock to Anderson's friendly takeover offer.

Although he's leaving Anderson with a bang, what about retirement plans versus working well into his 70s at an energy startup? "I'm not the type to go sit on my duff somewhere," he told The Globe and Mail's Lily Nguyen yesterday.

Don't let his aw-shucks humour fool you. Mr. Anderson has a bachelor of science in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas in Austin, and he could have moved up the corporate ladder at his first employer, U.S. giant Amoco, which is now part of the BP empire.

James Carl Anderson, or just plain J.C. to everyone in the oil patch, was born and raised in Oakland, Neb. He put in a couple of years in the U.S. Army after he graduated from university. Then he joined Amoco.

For a while, Mr. Anderson followed the safe career route and transferred to Calgary to become chief engineer at Amoco Canada in 1966. You couldn't keep this Nebraskan happy at a multinational for long, though.

In 1968, he founded a private company, which would become publicly traded in 1988 as Anderson Exploration.

Mr. Anderson runs a tight ship. Although Anderson expanded quickly to become one of Canada's largest producers, he didn't rely on a public relations department to spread the word about the latest successful well.

When it came time to publicize his company's annual meeting, he would simply pick up the phone himself and personally invite reporters to attend.

It wasn't all fun and games. Anyone who got on the wrong side of Mr. Anderson knew it. Executives who conjured up unprofitable plans were deemed to be "wearing size-two hats."

With an estimated 3.4 million Anderson shares, Mr. Anderson stands to pocket $136-million in cash from Devon.

If he were forced to illustrate how much money that is, he would undoubtedly find some humorous way of doing so.

You think oil at $26 (U.S.) a barrel is expensive? Mr. Anderson loves to point out that crude oil is cheap, when held up against Coca-Cola at $78 a barrel or Jack Daniel's whisky at $4,100 a barrel.

In a presentation in June to serious-minded analysts and institutional investors, Mr. Anderson couldn't resist slipping in a slide of a cartoon-like shark branded with Anderson's stock ticker symbol, AXL, snapping its sharp teeth at the tail of a smiling fish named Numac.

For the past four or five years, Anderson itself has been on the list of companies most likely to be taken over. In 1997, when asked about his firm being a takeover target, Mr. Anderson quipped: "It's nice to be loved."

Yesterday, he found out that Devon loves J.C.'s company, and J.C. has 136 million reasons to love Devon back. Even in Canadian currency, that's not too shabby for a good ol' boy from Nebraska, who won't be disappearing any time soon from the oil patch.

When you're having this much fun working, why retire? bjang@globeandmail.ca

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