Conoco chairman says no chance of Oklahoma headquarters

Thursday, November 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ There is no chance that state leaders can persuade executives to put corporate offices of the new ConocoPhillips in Oklahoma, the Conoco chairman said Wednesday.

``I think that would be an accurate assumption,'' Archie Dunham said.

Houston-based Conoco Inc. and Phillips Petroleum Co. of Bartlesville, announced merger plans last week with Phillips' corporate offices moving from northeast Oklahoma to Houston.

Gov. Frank Keating has said he would like to entice the company to stay in Oklahoma by offering tax incentives or other rewards.

Phillips is the state's largest publicly held company and one of only four Oklahoma corporations on the Fortune 500, a ranking of public companies with the most revenue.

But Dunham, who will be chairman of the combined company, said it makes more sense to base ConocoPhillips in a global corporate center such as Houston rather than Bartlesville.

Access to direct flights from Houston to countries worldwide where ConocoPhillips will do business was a major consideration, along with the availability of cultural, educational and entertainment amenities for executives, Dunham said.

Most major oil companies and service contractors are based in Houston or have a substantial presence there, making it more convenient and efficient to conduct business from a Houston base.

``You can't be a great global company and operate out of a small town anywhere in America,'' he said. ``It has nothing to do with Oklahoma.''

Phillips chief executive Jim Mulva, who will have the same position at ConocoPhillips, told employees Tuesday that the merger was contingent on transferring the headquarters to the nation's fourth-largest city.

Mulva said Wall Street analysts indicated that having offices in Bartlesville, where the company employs 2,400, hurt the company's share price.

Preliminary reports put corporate job losses at 400 in Oklahoma, but Dunham called that figure ``premature.''

``I wouldn't count on that number being right,'' he said without elaborating on whether more jobs would leave.

Employment at Conoco and Phillips facilities that remain also will likely be affected because some operations are similar.

Conoco employs 1,900 at a Ponca City research facility, refinery and back office operation that includes credit card processing. Phillips has research, credit card processing and other back office functions in Bartlesville.

A transition team is expected to decide where operations would be located by the end of the first quarter, based on what is in the best interest of the company's stockholders, Dunham said.

An Ada native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Dunham said he and Mulva are committed to keeping a large presence in the state.

Keating and Oklahoma's congressional delegation had a preliminary planning call Monday to begin devising a strategy, Keating spokesman Phil Bacharach said.

An incentive plan is expected in a few weeks.

``He wants to explore and consider all options that will have an impact on the new company staying here, whether that includes tax incentives or whatever,'' Bacharach said.

Dunham said he expects to meet with Keating in Houston early next month.

Energy-related jobs account for 35 percent of Houston's employment base. Oil companies and service contractors have been moving there for decades.

Parker Drilling Co., an international drilling contractor, relocated its corporate office from Tulsa to Houston in September. The move put the company close to corporate clients and vendors.

``Tulsa was good to this company, but from a business standpoint Houston made the most sense for Parker Drilling,'' said Tom Wingerter, Parker's vice president of operations.