LEXINGTON, Okla. — - - -
One sign of Hamm's changing fortunes — other than the shirt cuffs embroidered with his initials or the large diamond pin in his Hermes tie — has been moving the company headquarters from Enid, where Hamm first went after leaving Lexington, to an Oklahoma City skyscraper. Hamm himself had moved to Oklahoma City eight years ago so his daughters could go to better schools.
A day before the lunch at the Railhead Diner, Hamm showed off his plush new offices, featuring cattle skins on the floor, ornate carved chairs with fur backs, and dark wood paneling. From the desk, which faces floor-to-ceiling windows, he can look out over the heart of Oklahoma City.
"It's with some reverence that I sit here," he said, explaining that it was once the office suite of John Nichols, an Oklahoma City accountant who built Devon Energy, a huge independent oil and gas company.
Glass cases hold testimonies to Hamm's donations to diabetes research. There is a small sculpture of an early-20th-century oil worker driving an exploration tool into the ground with a sledgehammer. In the hallway, a case contains a rock collection.
"That one is one of a kind," he says, pointing to one chunk, "the only piece of a core" sample taken from a large Oklahoma oil field his company found in a crater. Another wall has a signed photo of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, whom Hamm calls "one of my best friends. . . . He is a team leader."
Yet Hamm seemed awkward giving the tour. As he strolled down the hall, people scrambled to attend him, but he waved them off, ducking into other executives' offices to show off the commanding views. When he sat down to talk, he chose a small room with a conference table, a map, and white board walls. This is where much of the company's real work gets done.
While companies such as Chesapeake Energy focused on natural gas, using fracking in places such as Pennsylvania, Continental Resources has focused on oil. And while natural gas prices have collapsed, oil remains near record levels.
So Continental is thriving. It expects to grow nearly 50 percent in 2012. Capital spending is expected to hit $2.3 billion, up from $1.8 billion, with most of the increase concentrated in the Bakken play, according to Barrington Research. The company is also expanding in similar places, including the Anadarko Woodford play in Oklahoma.
Hamm can't resist a little dig at natural gas and wind promoter T. Boone Pickens, who bought hundreds of turbines, then had to sell them when he couldn't complete a project. "Banks were giving them away with toasters," Hamm jokes.