Houston pipeline heirs strike it rich as wealthiest family in Texas

AMERICA'S WEALTHIEST FAMILIES

Randa Williams is the high-profile heir of the Duncan family. Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

Missouri has the Busches. Nebraska has the Buffetts. New York has the Hearsts. These are among the best-known wealthy families in the U.S.

Lesser-known nationally but well-known in Texas is the Duncan family of Houston, identified by FamilyMinded.com as the richest family in Texas. The website, which rounded up a list of the richest family in each state, pegs the family's estimated net worth at $26 billion; Forbes puts it at $25.6 billion.

The Duncan family comprises the four children of the late pipeline mogul Dan Duncan.

The children — Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Williams — inherited a tax-free $10 billion share of their father's estate following his death in 2010, when the so-called "death tax" had temporarily been repealed, according to Forbes. Each of them has an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion, Forbes says.

Williams is perhaps the most visible of the four Duncan heirs.

Williams is the only Duncan sibling who's involved in running the family business. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP, the pipeline company that her father founded in 1968. Last year, the company posted revenue of $36.5 billion. In June, Williams made a big splash with her purchase of Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine.

While the Duncans are worth close to $26 billion, their wealth doesn't come close to that of Alice Walton of Fort Worth, the richest person in Texas. Forbes estimates her net worth at $52.4 billion.

FamilyMinded.com lists Alice Walton and her fellow heirs to the Walmart fortune as the richest family in Arkansas (where Walmart is based), with an estimated net worth of $163 billion. They're also the richest family in the U.S.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Kendra Scott is one of the five richest self-made women in the state. Photo by Tyler Schmitt, ARF

5 Texas entrepreneurs rank among Forbes' richest self-made women

Must be the money

It's common knowledge Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and Gulf States Toyota owner Dan Friedkin rank among the wealthiest people in Texas. But did you know that five other entrepreneurs — collectively worth more than $4 billion — stand among the richest self-made women in the country?

Billionaire Thai Lee and millionaires Kendra Scott, Kathleen Hildreth, Whitney Wolfe Herd, and Suzy Batiz appear on Forbes magazine's new list of America's 80 richest self-made women — women who garnered wealth on their own, rather than by inheriting or winning it. And they're in great company, joining the likes of Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Madonna, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé.

Thai Lee, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion, appears at No. 5 on the Forbes list. She is president and CEO of SHI International Corp., a provider of IT products and services whose more than 17,000 customers include AT&T and Boeing. Revenue at the New Jersey-based company hit $10 billion in 2018; more than 4,000 people work at SHI. Austin is home to SHI's corporate call center and is the hub for its sales division catering to small and midsize businesses.

"In early 2015, we mapped a five-year goal to reach $10 billion in revenue by the end of 2019. Through the hard work of our employees, the strength of our partnerships, and our ability to discern and solve our customers' most pressing IT and business challenges, we reached that goal 12 months early," Lee says in a February release.

At No. 40 on thelist, with an estimated net worth of $550 million, is Kendra Scott. She is founder and CEO of Kendra Scott Design Inc. Annual sales at the Austin-based jewelry company hover around $360 million.

In 2017, Boston-based private equity firm Berkshire Partners invested in Scott's company at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Scott started the company in 2002 in the spare bedroom of her home. Today, Scott's business operates 100 jewelry stores, runs massive e-commerce and wholesale units, and employs more than 2,000 people. Last year, the company opened its flagship store on South Congress Avenue.

"There were so many ups and downs through this journey. There were many times that I thought I was going to lose my business. I had no investment capital. I was carrying it all on my shoulders — bootstrapping it, literally," Scott told CNN in 2018.

Kathleen Hildreth, co-founder of aviation-maintenance company M1 Support Services, appears on the list at No. 57, with an estimated net worth of $370 million. She is a West Point graduate and Army veteran who served as a helicopter pilot. Before M1 Support, she worked with defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin and DynCorp. Hildreth calls Aubrey, Texas, in the DFW area, home.

"Anything in the government's [aircraft] inventory, we do work on," Hildreth told Forbes. "You name it." Forbesadds, "The U.S Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and NASA are all clients of M1 Support, which relies entirely on the federal government for business. Most of its revenues come from maintaining military aircraft, including fighter jets such as F15s, F16s, and A10 Thunderbolts."

The fourth Texas entrepreneur on thelist is Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Austin-based Bumble Trading Inc., developer of the Bumble dating app for women, and the related Bumble BFF friend-finding app and Bumble Bizz networking app. Herd launched Bumble in 2014 after co-founding dating app Tinder. With an estimated net worth of $290 million, Herd claimed the No. 72 spot on the Forbes list. This is her first year to be ranked.

Bumble counts more than 60 million users in 150 countries. The company's estimated annual revenue totals $175 million, according to Forbes. Russian billionaire Andrey Andreev is the majority owner of Bumble.

"I want to take this sucker around the planet," Herd told Marie Claire last year about the future of Bumble. "Then, who knows, maybe we'll work with [Jeff] Bezos and [Elon] Musk and take it beyond."

At No. 77, with an estimated net worth of $270 million, is Dallas' Suzy Batiz, founder of Poo-Pourri, the before-you-go toilet spray available at major retailers. More than 60 million bottles have sold since the company's founding in 2007; Pou-Pourri is now expanding into shoe and pet odors and a cleaning line.

Asked in 2016 what the riskiest thing was she had ever done professionally, Batiz said not selling her company or taking on investors.

"I had no idea if it was going to work out. It's like being on a game show," she toldForbes. "They hand you the big briefcase and you think, 'You can take this thing of money, or you can gamble and try to stay in the game.' Somehow I knew that my baby, the company, was very similar to a child. It just wasn't ready to be released into the world yet without me."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Texas nonprofit grants $68.5M to Houston organizations for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.

Houston space company's lunar lander touches down on the moon in historic mission

touchdown

A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

The landing put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines also became the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth. Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kick-start the lunar economy.

Astrobotic was among the first to relay congratulations. “An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.

Intuitive Machines “aced the landing of a lifetime,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.

The final few hours before touchdown were loaded with extra stress when the lander's laser navigation system failed. The company's flight control team had to press an experimental NASA laser system into action, with the lander taking an extra lap around the moon to allow time for the last-minute switch.

With this change finally in place, Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, aiming for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

As the designated touchdown time came and went, controllers at the company's command center anxiously awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. After close to 15 minutes, the company announced it had received a weak signal from the lander.

Launched last week, the six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines' entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA's Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth's atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.