When it comes to risk, don’t gamble in Vegas—gamble in the business you know well. That’s what Texas oilman and financier Clayton W. Williams, Jr. ’54, told a roomful of marketing students as he accepted the 2007 Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award at Wehner in mid-February.

“If you don’t take risks, you’re probably not going to get very far. Not with the girl you want to marry or the business you want to run,” explained Williams, a 1954 Aggie graduate who established 26 companies in his long career as Texas businessman. “Risks should be calculated and within reason. I only gambled with wildcat wells.”

And those gambles, after the 1980s energy slump, have worked well for Williams. In the past 50 years, Williams has drilled 1,000 wells and 300 horizontal wells, and been part of efforts to drill an additional 2,400 wells. He took his oil and gas company, Clayton Williams Energy, public on the NASDAQ in 1993. He is also an active alumnus of Texas A&M, where The Association of Former Students’ building bears his name.

The Kupfer Executive Award at Mays serves as a lasting tribute to Harold L. Kupfer ’54 and his career and contributions to the Texas business community. The award, established in memory of Kupfer by his friends Gerald Ray ’54 and Donald Zale ’55, recognizes leading business executives who exemplify professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication to service.

The Kupfer designation is far from the first honor for storied Aggie Williams. Williams is a 1981 Texas A&M Distinguished Alumni, a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Energy Award, and a Champion of Free Enterprise award winner. He was inducted into the Petroleum Musuem’s Hall of Fame in 2005. And in 2006, the Texas State Historical Society named him Businessman of the Decade.

It turns out it’s not who you know or what you know that earns you business success, Williams said: It’s both. “Oil and gas, or any industry in fact, is a business of people. In the long run, if you know somebody and have a legitimate opportunity to put in front of them, that’s OK,” he said. “But focus on running your own business and putting your people first. And don’t worry so much about who you know, so long as you have good friends to share your life with.”

Kupfer Award founders Ray and Zale also honor Corps of Cadets students for their academics and leadership, and—in a new award introduced this year—for their courage and perseverance.