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  • Big Red: Memoirs of a Texas Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
  • Jeffrey Owens
Big Red: Memoirs of a Texas Entrepreneur and Philanthropist. By Red McCombs. As told to Don Carleton. (Austin: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, 2011. Pp. 252. Illustrations, index. ISBN 9780976669753, $29.95 cloth.)

Where but Texas can the son of a mechanic open a used-car lot and wind up a billionaire? Big Red: Memoirs of a Texas Entrepreneur and Philanthropist tells the story of Red McCombs, the founder of Clear Channel Communications. From a shoe-string investment in car dealerships, Red leveraged his growing assets into media, oil, real estate, and sports teams. Best known as an owner of the San Antonio [End Page 327] Spurs, Denver Nuggets, and Minnesota Vikings, Red also made waves as an Olympic-sized donor to UT-Austin, Southwestern University, and the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The book describes the decades-long process by which McCombs built his fortune and the character traits that brought success. It was Governor Dolph Briscoe who urged McCombs to share his experiences. He felt that young people needed positive role models of entrepreneurship and could learn from McCombs’s life. A previous memoir (published in 2002) failed to do justice to the subject, so Don Carleton, head of the Briscoe Center for American History at UT-Austin, joined the project as co-author. Longhorns coach Mack Brown contributed the foreword.

In a world consumed by instant gratification and status symbols, where celebrity comes from shock value rather than usefulness, the life of Red McCombs reminds us that “who wants to be a millionaire” is not the right question. How badly do you want it? If you made it, what would you give back to society? Success in McCombs’s world comes from hustle, drive, enthusiasm, confidence, fearlessness, self-discipline, reliability, the thrill of a challenge, a knack for networking, the ability to see opportunities and manage risk, a willingness to trust employees and partners, knowing how to delegate, researching all aspects of a deal, knowing how to limit losses, the ability to gain respect from people who matter, the wise use of credit and capital, a commitment to God and family, a willingness to forego extravagance and addictions, and an ethic of generous giving.

Many want money to impress others. McCombs admits to having an almost complete lack of awe. He never worked to gain the approval of others, nor felt that riches conferred glamour. Even when he partnered in a movie distributorship, Hollywood left him cold. The only investment that McCombs seems to have pursued mostly for prestige was when he briefly joined Lloyd’s of London as an insurance underwriter (mostly just to see if they would admit him). Tort liability in asbestos lawsuits led to his swift resignation, just in time to miss being ruined. Red is a smart man! From purebred Longhorn ranches to cowboy hats and wheeler-dealing, Big Red is a portrait of the Texas Rich and how (at least one of them) got that way. [End Page 328]

Jeffrey Owens
Tyler Junior College


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