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Posted: July 06, 2012

Never a dull moment for Denver oilman Tim Marquez

Mike Taylor

A little past 4:30 in the morning, most every morning, Tim Marquez starts his day in the pool, knocking out 3,500 meters. A few hours later he’ll forego lunch in favor of a 7- to 8-mile run.

"It clears my head. It’s meditative," says Marquez, 54, the chairman and CEO of Venoco Inc., a Denver-based oil and gas firm he co-founded in 1992. "When I’m running, I get to think about a lot of issues, and so when I come back to work I brainstorm a little. Plus, it makes you mentally tough. It’s not just a physical thing."

One issue that no doubt has occupied Marquez’s thoughts recently is his proposed buyback of publicly traded Venoco, which posted revenues of $329 million last year. Marquez already is the company’s majority shareholder with 50.3 percent ownership, and on June 5, shareholders agreed to his buyout offer, proposed last August, of $12.50 per share, conditional to his ability to arrange financing. Venoco stock has traded in a 52-week range of $6.50 to $14.94 per share.

"We’ve said publicly that we think some of the parts are worth $40 a share, and yet the stock was trading at seven bucks a share last year," Marquez said in early June. "Clearly the investment community didn’t share our enthusiasm. So I made a 60 percent premium offer at the time, and after nine months we’re finally getting to the finish line. I do feel badly that some investors are not going to be able to see the upside, but we were in a tough position. The company certainly wasn’t going to issue more shares at $7 per share to raise capital, and I wasn’t going to sell any personally, so what was the point of being a public company?"

Marquez, the son of a high school biology teacher and high school English teacher, attended Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School and then the Colorado School of Mines where he earned a bachelor of science degree in petroleum engineering.

Although the School of Mines is widely hailed as the "Harvard of geosciences," Marquez says it was just dumb luck that he chose to attend it.

"One of the reasons I went to Mines is I didn’t have much money when I was a kid, and at that time I think Mines was the cheapest school in the state," says Marquez, who in 2005 pledged $10 million toward a new petroleum engineering building for the school. "Tuition was $300 a semester. Even having grown up in Denver, like probably a lot of people you hear of the Colorado School of Mines but you don’t even know what it is or what they do. But that’s how I ended up there."

For three of those years at Mines, Marquez worked full-time at the nearby Coors brewery in Golden, logging five- or six-hour work days during the week and full eight-hour shifts on weekends running tours and beer-tastings.

"That’s probably where I learned to become very efficient with my time," Marquez says. "Looking back it was a good thing, even though it wasn’t fun at
the time."

It hasn’t always been fun at Venoco, either, though it has seldom been uninteresting. In the ’90s, crude oil dropped to around $4 per barrel – or about 10 cents a gallon – and Marquez says, "Our bank at that time jettisoned us. Even though we had never broken any covenants and kept current on everything, they were still trying to shed their investments and their exposure to the oil and gas industry. That was tough."

And then in 2002 Marquez was fired from the company he co-founded in a dispute with partners that included Enron Corp.; was sued and countersued; then bought out the partners two years later to regain control of the company. He took Venoco public in 2006 with an initial public offering that yielded $212 million, a portion of which ($50 million) Marquez and his wife, Bernadette used to seed a need-based scholarship program for Denver Public School graduates, one of many education-related philanthropic endeavors by the couple.

"I guess what’s happened over the years is, I’ve just gotten tough," Marquez says. "I guess I’ve grown more confident. I’ve faced a lot of adversity and I’ve been able to kind of overcome it, and that leaves you with a good feeling. People say you can’t do this, you can’t do that. I love being able to prove people wrong."

Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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