Dallas-based billionaire Kelcy Warren became the first UTA alumnus to serve on the UT System Board of Regents — the governing body for the largest university system in Texas.
In his career, spanning more than 40 years, Warren has worked at multiple oil and gas companies before starting his own pipeline business.
But Warren’s future didn’t always look so bright. He flunked out after his first year at UTA.
His upbringing in a small East Texas town didn’t prepare him for life on his own in college. Warren said everybody looked after everybody, so he didn’t have to look after himself.
“I had others that told me where to be and when to be there,” Warren said. “And so, you know, I just didn’t go to class.”
Warren returned home to White Oak, Texas, and attended the local community college to raise his GPA while working in the oil fields.
Warren thinks his dad intentionally found him the hardest job to show why he should return to school.
“I have this ability to get an education, and I’m not gonna take that for granted again,” he said.
He learned how to manage his time more efficiently while taking night classes. He rushed to his 5:30 p.m. class after leaving work about 30 minutes beforehand.
Despite his busy schedule, he said he felt blessed to have the opportunity to finish school.
“For the first time, I was getting an education because I wanted it, not because somebody else was telling me that’s what I needed,” he said.
Eventually, Warren found his way back to UTA to finish his education.
His degree in civil engineering taught him about mechanical processes in fieldwork. Though he only practiced with his degree for a few years, Warren said the knowledge helped him throughout his career.
Warren landed an engineering job in Dallas after graduating. He designed pipelines, but he wanted to learn more about why they were built.
He took a job in Midland, Texas, where he began to understand the commercial aspect of the gas business in addition to the engineering behind it.
He bought gas from producers and provided it to consumers in their towns.
“I was like a sponge,” he said. “I just could not get enough of this.”
Later, he found another job in the Dallas area with a startup company called Endevco. He said he thought he had learned enough at the time to help the company.
It was ultimately the company he and Ray Davis, Energy Transfer board member, purchased before they sold for about $136 million to El Paso Natural Gas Co. in 1995. Warren said his share of the sale was $13 million.
“It was the first time I had money where I truly could have never worked again the rest of my life,” Warren said. “But that’s not the choice I made.”
In a few months, Warren and Davis started Energy Transfer in 1996.
Energy Transfer maintains about 90,000 miles of pipeline across the country, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to the company website. Warren said the company is worth about $90 billion.
Cliff Harris, former Dallas Cowboys safety, remembered meeting Warren at a charity golf tournament in the early 1990s. They became fast friends because of their similar upbringings. Harris now works with Warren at Energy Transfer.
Warren doesn’t see any barriers when he sets a goal for his company, Harris said. He executes plans with a lot of thought and expects the same of the people he works with.
“He doesn’t want excuses,” Harris said. “He wants results.”
Warren is one of three regents appointed in the last legislative session and will serve until February 2025. The board, consisting of 10 members, votes on administrative actions across the UT System, including the annual budget each year.
Gov. Greg Abbott asked Warren to serve on the Board of Regents. Warren said he wouldn’t turn down a request from the governor and accepted.
Warren’s background is more business than academic, so he was nervous when he attended his first board meeting.
But he found that the board is a lot like his company. Each organization is a large operation with numerous moving parts, and the regents on the board vote on how each part moves.
“It’s really kind of what I do every day, here in my other job,” Warren said. “That experience will help me be a good regent.”
While on the board of regents, Warren said he’d like to see UTA grow its curriculum. Specifically, he’d like to see a petroleum engineering department created.
President Vistasp Karbhari said having a UTA alumnus on the board of regents is valuable.
Warren can help the board understand the university’s mission and how it affects the region around it while pulling from his personal experiences.
“He’ll also be able to come back to UTA with a lot of direction, through the board obviously, as to how UTA can do things in a better way to better serve the system and the state,” Karbhari said.
Karbhari said he approached Warren about creating a resource engineering program. Students would focus on all aspects of energy resources, including the drilling and the pipeline building.
“I would jump all over hiring those kids,” Warren said.
Karbhari said the option has been discussed about creating a new major, or a department or unit that looks at energy from a holistic point of view.
“Not just from the petroleum aspect of it, but the delivery, the economics and the environmental aspects as well,” Karbhari said.
The university was working on a proposal for the program, and Warren would be one of the first to see it, Karbhari said. According to the university’s strategic plan website, the program is currently being planned.
Kevin Eltife, Board of Regents chairman, said he is glad Warren made the UT System one of his civic priorities for the next six years. Warren and the other new regents bring experience and expertise from business, medicine and law, he said.
“They all share a profound commitment to public service, which will greatly benefit UT students and [UT medical centers’] patients, and ultimately, the state of Texas,” he said.
Harris said Warren demonstrated his ability to impact the board with his experience in raising Klyde Warren, his son. Klyde Warren has grown into a respectable man with manners, and Warren can bring that to UTA, said Harris.
“His knowledge on seeing those far reaching things that he does in business and in life and in music and everything else, he can do the same thing with the University of Texas Arlington,” Harris said.
UTA laid the foundation for Warren’s success, Harris said. Warren is the kind of man who remembers that.