Williams traces its roots to humble beginnings in 1908. Two brothers, Miller and David Williams, started small with a construction business in Fort Smith, Ark. Within a few years, their business grew to encompass building cross-country pipelines.
In this fledgling industry, the Williams brothers stood out with the reputation they earned for doing a good job on time and on budget. In 1919, they moved their burgeoning business to Tulsa, Okla., which serves as the company’s headquarters to this day.
For the first six decades, the company name was Williams Brothers. With the growth in scale and business, the company in the 1970s changed its name to The Williams Companies, Inc. Today, we go by Williams.
The company has a long and continuing history of change, adaptation, acquisitions, expansions, divestments and growth – with the evolution of opportunities, economics and market dynamics.
In 1966, Williams bought a pipeline in what was the largest leveraged buyout that Wall Street had ever seen. That transaction began Williams’ transformation from builder to owner and operator of large pipeline systems.
After a period of time in the 1970s as a conglomerate with businesses ranging from fertilizer and steel to retail stores and commercial real estate development, Williams turned its full focus back to energy and pipelines.
The company began assembling its nationwide system of interstate natural gas pipelines in 1982 with the purchase of Northwest Energy Company.
The 1995 acquisition of Transco Energy Company expanded Williams’ natural gas transportation system to the East Coast and established the company as one of the nation’s largest-volume transporters of natural gas.
In 1998, Williams purchased MAPCO, another Tulsa-based energy business, whose assets happened to include a pipeline the Williams built in 1960, during the heyday of its construction business.
During a period from the mid-1980s to the beginnings of this century, Williams played a foundational role in today’s digital world with the development of vital fiber-optic telecommunications networks that span the United States. This business began with company engineers’ bright idea to use retired-from-service pipelines as conduit for fragile fiber-optic cable. Williams’ story of innovation and reinvention here endures as an example in business-school curriculum.
The company narrowed its focus back to energy again in 2001. Williams exited the telecommunications business and acquired Barrett Resources, adding significant natural gas reserves, primarily in the western United States. Williams’ development of those reserves earned it the designation of Platts Global Energy Awards 2006 Hydrocarbon Producer of the Year.
Early in the 21st century, the company successfully forged through liquidity challenges wrought by the implosion of both the energy trading and telecommunications industries. Williams sold more than $8 billion in assets and restructured its business, all while continuing to pay a quarterly dividend to common-stock shareholders, as it has done without interruption since 1974. In 2007, the results of the company’s financial strengthening actions resulted in its return to investment-grade credit.
Recognizing the need for large-scale infrastructure to connect new, shale-gas supply regions with markets, Williams in 2009 began investing to grow its business in the Marcellus producing area of the U.S. Northeast. Today, the company is one of the largest gatherers and processors of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale-gas supply regions.
As well, Williams has continued to invest in expanding its Transco interstate natural gas pipeline system – the nation’s largest, and fastest-growing – to create access to “best markets” to the north and south of the Marcellus and Utica supply areas.
The company’s mid-2014 acquisition of controlling interest in Access Midstream Partners L.P. adds to Williams’ growth footprint in the Marcellus and Utica producing areas. As well, the acquisition of the Oklahoma City-based company expands Williams’ U.S. business in areas of the Mid-Continent and the West.