King P. Kirchner
2006 Outstanding Entrepreneur
Co-founder Unit Corporation
In the 43 years since King Kirchner co-founded Unit Corporation, the company has grown from three to 116 drilling rigs and from three to 3,000 employees – more than half the population of Perry, Oklahoma, where he first set foot on an oil field.
Today Unit Corporation is the fourth largest land drilling contractor in the United States, and its oil and gas company, Unit Petroleum, operates approximately 6,500 wells. Together, these enterprises comprise a company with $2.4 billion in market capital.
Kirchner grew up on a farm six miles west of Perry and began his education in a one-room schoolhouse. He traces his business savvy to his teenage days, when he rode a Harley Davidson to the oil fields and worked as a roughneck, earning 87 cents an hour.
Kirchner earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University and worked briefly for Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company before his military service. After a tour of duty in Germany during the Korean War, he continued his education, earning a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Oklahoma.
From 1954 to 1963, Kirchner worked for the Unit Drilling Division of Woolaroc Oil Company in Bristow, Oklahoma, advancing from engineer to vice president. In 1963, Kirchner and his silent partner, Don Bodard, bought three rotary drilling rigs from Woolaroc Oil, along with the Unit name, and established Unit Drilling Company, which became the Tulsa-based Unit Corporation.
In 1979 Unit Corporation was listed on NASDAQ as a publicly held company, and on Kirchner’s 54th birthday in 1981, the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Over the next two decades, Unit Corporation expanded its operations to the Mid-Continent, Rocky Mountain and Gulf Coast Basins, with regional offices in Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.
Kirchner retired as CEO in 2001 and as chairman in 2003 but continues to serve as a company director. An avid pilot who owns a number of planes, he has logged more than 8,000 hours of flying time. He also continues to support many community organizations including the United Way, Philbrook Museum of Art, Gilcrease Museum, the Arthritis Foundation, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, and the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.