Current events in the oil and gas industry provide a perfect backdrop for John R. Miller’s entertaining book, Little Did We Know. In 1969, nearly ten billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves were discovered on the North Slope of Alaska. All that was needed was a way to transport the oil to market: the Trans Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) was the answer. It would carry crude oil 800 miles across some of the most rugged and remote terrain in the country. Climatic conditions were extremely hostile. Stipulations imposed to address ecological concerns were demanding. Building the pipeline–one of the largest private industrial projects ever undertaken–would be an incredible feat of engineering.
It turns out that it would also be an incredible feat of financing. Sohio, a relatively small, Midwestern oil refiner and marketer, struck a deal with British Petroleum and, as a result, became one of three companies responsible for financing the cost of developing the field and constructing the pipeline. Mr. Miller would shoulder the burden of arranging the financing for Sohio’s portion of the Alaskan venture.
His story is one of an engineer with no formal training in finance surmounting an onslaught of challenges and raising more than $6 billion over a decade–something many experts thought was well beyond Sohio’s capabilities.
Readers of his tale will be riveted by how one unlikely company, and one small finance team in Cleveland, Ohio, could, with ingenuity, perseverance and luck overcome never ending obstacles. Miller’s humble and humorous narrative documents their success, as evidenced by Sohio’s transformation into the fifteenth-largest US industrial corporation. Fortune magazine summarized it this way: “It is probably fair to say that seldom in the business of raising money have so few, who knew so little, done so much.”