A Friend For Commerce

campaign chairman don evans and george w. bush
President-elect George W. Bush's choice for commerce secretary is longtime friend Don Evans, a former drinking buddy and chairman of Bush's presidential campaign.

Bush announced Evans' nomination at a news conference in Austin, Texas on Wednesday.

Evans, 54, is chief executive of Tom Brown Inc., a Denver-based oil and gas company with an office in Midland, Texas. He was instrumental in helping Bush raise a record $100 million for his presidential race, then helped guide the campaign to a narrow victory over Vice President Al Gore.

Evans was a West Texas roughneck who rose through the ranks to run an oil and gas company.

It was his friendship and loyalty to a future president, however, that has put him on a national stage.

"I view him as somebody who knows me well, is not afraid to give me his opinion, has my best interest at heart," Bush said of Evans early this year.

Like Bush, Evans was born in July 1946. A native of Houston, he received a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Texas in 1969 and a master's in business administration from the school in 1973.

Evans' move to dusty Midland introduced him to Bush and eventually became his path to Washington.

Bush too moved to Midland in the early 1970s, and he and Evans quickly became friends. In those days, bachelor Bush used to hang out with Evans while Evans' wife, Susan, washed Bush's clothes.

That relationship blossomed into one of Bush's closest friendships.

Like Bush, Evans is a Methodist. It was Evans who counseled Bush to read the Bible, at one point giving him a Bible divided into 365 readings, one for each day of the year.

Evans partied with Bush the night the president-elect says he swore off drinking. It was 1986 and both men were celebrating their 40th birthdays. The lingering hangover from that night prompted Bush to abandon the bottle altogether, he says.

Evans' rise in Denver-based Tom Brown Inc. was quick.

His father worked for Shell Oil Co., and Evans went to work for Tom Brown in Midland as a roughneck, determined to learn the industry from the ground up.

Within five years he was company president, and he became chief executive in 1985.

According to the company's annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tom Brown Inc. had an interest in 1,351 oil and gas wells as of Dec. 31, 1999. Its largest operations are in Wyoming, Texas and Colorado.

The company had a revenue of $214.9 million in 1999 with profits of $5 million.

Evans was paid a salary of $355,698 last year and earned a $275,000 bonus. As of April 10, he owned 937,570 shares of stock in the company with an additional 50,000 stock options.

Rich Griebling, state regulatory director for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, called Tom Brown a "model company for following state regulations."

"We would definitely describe them as a model oprator," Griebling said. "They're one of the handful of top responsible gas operators in the state."

Evans has been part of Bush's political career from the start, as a fund-raiser for his losing congressional campaign in 1978. When Bush returned to politics to run for governor, Evans chaired his winning campaigns in 1994 and 1998.

In 1997, Bush appointed Evans to the University of Texas System Board of Regents. He now is its chairman, and his term expires Feb. 1.

When Bush ran for president, Evans, as national finance chairman, raised more than $100 million. He was appointed campaign chairman in April.

Evans had a high profile near the end of the presidential campaign as Bush's lead negotiator on the fall presidential debates and one of the spokesmen for the recount effort in Florida.