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20 Questions: Gordon Getty

The investor, philanthropist, composer, economist and poet shares his favorite things.

Illustration by Graham Smith

Gordon Getty, 84, exited the family business in 1984 when he led the sale of Getty Oil to Texaco for $10.1 billion. Now an investor, philanthropist, composer, economist and poet, Getty devotes much of his time to the PlumpJack Group—owner of Napa wineries Cade, Odette, PlumpJack and a recently purchased Howell Mountain vineyard. At PlumpJack, Getty is partners with general manager John Conover and California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom.

  • 01. What are you working on? Integrating our new winery acquisition on Howell Mountain into Cade Estate.
  • 02. What’s your latest creation? My opera Goodbye, Mr. Chips and my book Logic and Economics, which is in press, along with various papers.
  • 03. Your favorite city? San Francisco.
  • 04. What do you love about it? It’s compact and metropolitan.
  • 05. How many days a year do you travel? Six weeks, in all.
  • 06. Do you fly private or commercial? Private.
  • 07. Other than a phone or computer, what do you never travel without? A yellow pad for writing.
  • 08. What is your investment philosophy? Index funds.
  • 09. What’s the best business decision you ever made? My insert in the agreement with Pennzoil. [Getty agreed to sell Getty Oil to Pennzoil in 1984, then struck a deal to sell the company to Texaco, resulting in a law- suit ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court.]
  • 10. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? Offending the emir in the Neutral Zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
  • 11. What’s more important, good luck or good sense? Good sense.
  • 12. What advice would you give to a younger you? Respect everybody, follow nobody.
  • 13. Beer, wine or spirits? PlumpJack, Cade and Odette wines.
  • 14. The most difficult part of co-owning a winery? Writing an opera? Regarding a winery, the inability to control Mother Nature. Regarding opera, finding a subject.
  • 15. Your favorite restaurant? Balboa Cafe on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.
  • 16. What kind of watch do you wear? A cheap Timex digital.
  • 17. What keeps you awake at night? Ideas in music or logic.
  • 18. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome? Acceptance by others of my music and economics as first rate.
  • 19. What do you deny yourself? Simple carbs and starches.
  • 20. How would you like to be remembered? As a composer, poet and economist.

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