There are at least 50 million reasons why Paul Foster, president and CEO of Western Refining Inc., is El Paso Inc.'s 2007 El Pasoan of the Year. But it's not that simple, really.

To be named El Pasoan of the Year, an individual must go above and beyond the call of duty, and their job description, to improve life in El Paso during the year.

Supporting Texas Tech's four-year medical school in El Paso with a $50 million gift is certainly worthy of recognition, but that's not all that the self-made billionaire did for his adopted hometown this year.

Foster's community-mindedness sets him apart from other successful business owners, as he looks for ways to invest much of his personal fortune in El Paso's future. 

For his success in creating El Paso's third publicly traded company, for his generosity on both sides of the border, for his faith in the community as evidenced by his personal investment, El Paso Inc. recognizes Foster as its 2007 El Pasoan of the Year.

And maybe El Paso is lucky that Foster, who started out as a pre-med major in college, couldn't cut it and decided to study business instead.

Supporting education

In August, Foster gave $50 million to Texas Tech's El Paso medical school, now named the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. His gift is the single largest to Texas Tech, ever.

In an interview with El Paso Inc. well before the gift's announcement, Foster may have signaled his intentions: 

"We support community development, community growth. You know, a lot of people think supporting the Texas Tech medical school is political. I think it's one of the most significant economic development efforts going on in this city, and it's critical to El Paso's future."

After the donation, Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance paid tribute to Foster's generosity, saying: "This is a man who has done well and now he's giving back to the community."

Foster has also donated to the University of Texas at El Paso, where the new Foster-Stevens basketball facility is under construction, supported by $6 million from Foster and Jeff Stevens of Western Refining.

In November, Foster joined the University of Texas System Board of Regents, giving the city a voice on one of the state's most important boards. 

And giving him one mighty busy schedule. 

This month, he was named to board committees on academic affairs; audit, compliance and management review; and finance and planning.

In addition, he serves on the board of UTIMCO, the non-profit investment management company that manages $24 billion in assets for the UT System.

Doing business

Foster's Western Refining Inc. (NYSE: WNR) is only the third publicly traded company headquartered in El Paso.

This year, he grew Western into the fourth-largest public, independent refiner and marketer in the country. Foster engineered the company's growth with the acquisition of rival Giant Industries, giving it a total daily capacity of 216,000 barrels.

Foster formed Western 10 years ago, but it really took off when he purchased two separate El Paso refineries.

"The one on the south side of Trowbridge was originally Texaco, and then it was owned by a bunch of banks; and the one on the north side was Chevron," he told El Paso Inc. "And neither of these groups saw a lot of value in their assets. And, honestly, separately there wasn't a lot of value. In order to create the value you had to put them together."

This summer, the company gave each Western employee in El Paso a $16,000 bonus.

This fall, Foster – with a net worth of $1.9 billion – ranked No. 216 on the Forbes list of the country's 400 richest people.

Local commitment

The energy billionaire has shown his commitment to El Paso by investing time and resources in the city's Downtown redevelopment project.

In an interview with El Paso Inc., Foster shared his optimism about his new home:

"There's a feeling throughout the city that things are just poised to click in El Paso. It's an exciting time to be here, and that probably had a lot to do with us deciding to stay here," he said.

He also talked about why it's important to be an active part of the community.

"Beyond me personally, we as a company need to be involved in every way that we can reasonably be involved, whether it's charitable or even political causes. We have a role in shaping the future of this city, just like El Paso Natural Gas did years ago. It was a horrible loss when they left, but the electric company and other major industries in this town have a role and an obligation to get involved."

Foster is a member of the Paso del Norte Group's executive committee, and chair of the Regional Economic Development Corp., known as REDCo.

"I feel that anything that I can do to help drive economic development in this city will mean that ultimately we'll all live in a better place," he told El Paso Inc.

He is also investing personally in El Paso, buying the Blue Flame, Luther and Mills buildings in Downtown, and the Farah building on the Eastside.

He said he is not looking for cash flow with the purchases. Instead, he is betting that Downtown will ultimately be a vibrant place, and those buildings will be valuable assets.

Beyond that, Foster has also given generously to the restoration of the Plaza Theatre, and to the Red Cross, United Way and the Salvation Army. He says the Plaza is absolutely essential as the anchor for Downtown development.

"It's a unique and impressive redevelopment project, one of the best in the country, and it's right in the center of what ought to be – and, I think, ultimately will be – a very vibrant Downtown. That's one of the reasons I was glad to buy the Mills Building, which is essentially right next to the theater."

He and his company also support charities in Juarez, El Paso's sister city just across the U.S.-Mexico border. He said working with businesses there is a crucial piece of El Paso's economic development.

Foster's thoughts on philanthropy are straightforward:

"We have an obligation to give back. Anybody with resources has an obligation. Some people can give more than others, and they should. I've been blessed with a lot of opportunities and good fortune and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to give back."

Up close

Foster, 50, has lived in El Paso for seven years. He was born in East Texas and raised in Lovington, N.M., where his father owned several oil field service companies.

As a boy, he worked to earn money selling fireworks, bagging groceries and peddling homemade candles.

His teenage summers were spent in New Mexico oilfields where he welded pipes, dug ditches and cleaned tanks. Those experiences convinced him of the importance of a good education.

And those jobs helped him pay his way through Baylor University, graduating in 1979 with BBA in accounting. He also became a CPA. Foster is the divorced father of two children.

Paul Foster

President and Chief Executive Officer, Western Refining Company

B.B.A. in Accounting, Baylor University, 1979

Certified Public Accountant, Arizona State Board of Accountancy, 1986

A sampling of Foster's civic and community service:

Executive Committee, Paso del Norte Group

Chair, El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation

American Heart Association, El Paso

American Red Cross, El Paso

El Paso Community Foundation

Sun Bowl Association

Texas Economic Development Corporation

Young Presidents' Organization Member

Business Advisory Council, The University of Texas El Paso

Executive Committee, El Paso Chamber of Commerce

El Paso Texas Downtown Rotary Club

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

Arizona Society of Certified Public Accountants

Western Petroleum Marketers Association

Western States Petroleum Association

National Petroleum Refiners Association

Republican Senatorial Inner Circle

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