David Buck, a 41-year-old corporate partner at Andrews Kurth LLP, wanted to do deals since he was a kid. After all, he watched his father, Clyde, work on transactions as an investment banker at Dain Rauscher Corp., Harris Webb & Garrison Inc. and Sanders Morris Harris Group Inc. in Houston. (The elder Buck is now semiretired). But instead of becoming an investment banker, Buck went to law school at Vanderbilt University after studying history and Latin American studies at Princeton. "I wanted to do my own thing," he says.
Since joining Andrews Kurth in 1994, Buck has built his experience and relationships into a busy dealmaking practice. Last year he counseled National Oilwell Varco Inc. on its $7.4 billion acquisition of Grant Prideco Inc., and this year he's been working with Enterprise Products Partners LP -- run by Houston's wealthiest man, billionaire Dan Duncan -- on some of its equity and debt offerings (he is said to be advising Enterprise on its offer to buy Teppco Partners LP for $2.8 billion, but neither he nor the company will comment).
People who know Buck say he's detail oriented, has a great sense of humor and is a problem solver.
"We tell him, 'Here's what we want to do,' and he gets us there," says Hank Bachmann, Enterprise's chief legal officer.
Buck says he's been influenced most by the transactional honchos at the firm, Bob Jewell and Mike O'Leary, who he says are always ready to offer solutions rather than just raise issues. "They taught me how to manage the expectations and confidence of clients -- and to keep cool under any circumstance," he says.
Buck was able to snare National Oilwell Varco's business away from Vinson & Elkins LLP by keeping up with the company after working on its initial public offering as an associate. He says that with the firm's considerable energy expertise, from underwriting to transactions, "we convinced them that we could see the business from a number of different angles."
Not all of his deals have worked out. In July of last year, Buck advised Midland, Texas, oil services provider Basic Energy Services Inc. on its planned $1.4 billion acquisition by Grey Wolf Inc. (the firm had handled Basic's 2005 IPO). But Grey Wolf shareholders voted the deal down, preferring to be bought out by Canada's Precision Drilling Trust for $2 billion.
It turned out to be something of a blessing. The transaction was announced at a time of brisk demand fueled by high oil and gas prices. Since then, oil prices have tumbled and business has slowed considerably. "It's a relief it didn't go through," Buck says. "The drilling market has gone down a lot faster than expected. In hindsight, it was better for Basic not to do the deal, and Grey Wolf got a better deal with Precision Drilling."
Buck has learned a few things about dealmaking along the way -- particularly when it relates to the seller. He cites two cases. He represented recycler Allwaste Inc. in its stock acquisition in 1997 by Philip Environmental Inc.; Philip shares tanked after revelations that the company was in severe financial trouble. (Philip Environmental filed for bankruptcy a year later.) Buck also represented funeral home operator Equity Corp. International on its acquisition a year later by Service Corp. International, whose stock collapsed when it missed earnings projections three days after the deal closed. "I learned to scrutinize an acquirer's motivation, particularly when they're issuing equity," he says.
In the oil patch, Buck is seeing debt markets open up and companies disposing of noncore assets. Meanwhile, oil and gas companies are looking at joint ventures as a way to trade capital and know-how. He's also anticipating private equity getting back into the game and expects to see consolidation in services. "With rig utilization rates down, people are realistic about where the cycle is," he says.
Buck and his wife Kristen, who have three children ages 7, 4 and 9 months, are big contributors on the arts scene and to children's charities in Houston. Buck recently rolled off the advisory board of the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston ("I appreciate art more than I like to own it," he says), and his wife became president of the Junior League of Houston. He also enjoys running, playing tennis and fly-fishing, taking his last big trip to Russia to fish for rainbow trout on the Kamchatka Peninsula. "It was all catch and release," he says.
Like some deals.