Selim K. Zilkha
Net Worth: $725 million
Source of Wealth: Oil
Residence: Bel Air
Born in Baghdad to a family of bankers, Selim Zilkha worked his way through three industries and several continents before settling in Los Angeles over a decade ago.
In January, Zilkha and his son Michael who once produced punk rock records closed a deal that left them billionaires. They sold Zilkha Energy Co. to integrated oil and gas company Sonat Inc. for shares worth just over $1 billion, plus the assumption of $260 million in debt. Zilkha now holds a 13.1 percent share (and his son 8.8 percent) in Birmingham, Ala.-based Sonat, which has a $4.4 billion market cap.
Zilkha first got into the oil business in 1983, when he and a partner acquired a 42 percent stake in Ohio-based Towner Petroleum. Within the year, the company filed for bankruptcy. Zilkha came in, pulled the company out of bankruptcy and renamed it Zilkha Energy.
By the late ’80s, the price of oil plummeted, and most companies began pulling out of the Gulf of Mexico. Zilkha jumped in, obtaining 1.5 million acres in leaseholdings to explore and drill for oil.
It was these leaseholdings that attracted Sonat, which bought the company in return for a 22 percent equity share. Zilkha and his son assumed positions on Sonat’s board.
Previous to entering the energy business, Zilkha was a banker at his father’s company, Zilkha & Sons, from 1947 to 1960. During this time, he was based in the United States, London and elsewhere in Europe. In 1960, he left banking to found Mothercare plc. Zilkha built up the baby products and maternity clothes retail chain, then sold his interest in the company in 1982. At that time, he left London and moved to Bel Air.