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Alaskan Bob Gillam wants to be U.S. Interior secretary

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published November 25, 2016

Robert B. Gillam, founder of the Anchorage-based McKinley Capital Management. (Courtesy Robert Gillam)

Alaska millionaire investor Robert B. Gillam is making a serious play for the position of Interior Secretary in president-elect Donald Trump's administration.

Gillam, 70, is a lifelong Alaskan who lives primarily in Anchorage in a home on Campbell Lake, with his wife Mary Lou. He also has a home near Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. In 2015, Forbes Magazine named Gillam the richest person in Alaska, estimating his net worth at $320 million.

According to his son, Gillam woke on Nov. 9 with a new drive to get involved in politics now that a fellow 1968 Wharton graduate was headed to the White House.

Gillam, who goes by "Bob," hasn't previously worked in government, or in the regulatory circles of Beltway politics. But "if there ever was a time an outsider could do just about anything," it's now, said his son, Robert A. Gillam.

"I recognized that suddenly it was possible for me to serve in a role that has otherwise been one of career politicians," Gillam wrote in a personal statement detailing his desire to take the top land and energy development role.

So far, President-elect Trump's Cabinet picks imply that is the case. He chose billionaire school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos as his nominee to be the secretary of education, and billionaire venture capitalist Wilbur Ross as his commerce secretary nominee.

The list of names floated for the Interior Department chief is long and varied, but Gillam wanted to give it a shot, his son said Friday. Gillam and son were planning to head to Washington, D.C. early Saturday, he said.

So far, the self-made investment manager has been filling out the necessary background paperwork, researching the job and talking to former secretaries and deputies, Rob Gillam said. "There's a lot of people who are thinking an Alaskan would be great for the job," he said.

"I believe the Department of the Interior needs a leader with solid business experience who will advocate for a "reasonable and scientific" approach to developing our federal lands and resources. I also believe the Interior Department needs a leader who can be a voice for America's native people, culture and way of life," Gillam wrote in his statement. "I would bring to the job no political desires or economic interests."

Gilliam has also been in touch with Alaska's congressional delegation, the younger Gillam said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and will be in charge of Senate vetting of whomever Trump nominates for the secretary slot.

Bob Gillam founded McKinley Capital Management, an Anchorage-based firm that manages more than $7 billion in investments.

Rob Gillam is the only one of the five Gillam children who works for his father, and he has been chief investment officer for 12 years, he said. "Emotionally, it would be difficult" for his father to separate himself from the company to serve in a government position. But "legally, it would be easy for him to step away," he said.

The situation may feel familiar to the president-elect, who works closely with his children. The connections don't end there: Gillam and Trump were classmates at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation in 1968, Gillam went to UCLA for a master's degree in business administration, graduating in 1969.

Bob Gillam previously told Alaska Dispatch News he had been in touch with Trump throughout the campaign.

Gillam's name is somewhat well-known in Alaska, but he is not a public character or a known politician, other than his behind-the-scenes efforts to stop development of the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine in Southwest Alaska.

Gillam contributed millions of dollars towards efforts to stop the mine, including supporting local and statewide ballot measures to make the project more difficult to develop.

Those efforts landed Gillam in trouble with state campaign regulators who fined his private air service $25,500 in 2011 after it offered cheap flights to two anti-Pebble political candidates, services amounting to illegal campaign contributions. The Alaska Supreme Court upheld the fine in 2015.

Gillam himself was the subject of an earlier complaint as part of a group accused of secretly funneling money into a clean-water ballot measure. They paid $100,000 in a 2010 settlement with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Gillam argued APOC officials were out to get him.

Gillam has five children: Rob, who works for his company, and four children who do not: Vicki, Clark, Hunter and Roxanne.

He's a lifelong Alaskan: His parents Byron and Lillian met in Montana and came to Alaska as newlyweds in the summer of 1941, according to a biography provided by Rob Gillam. After serving at the Port of Seward during World War II, the family moved to Fairbanks, where Bob Gillam was born in 1946, the second of three children.

The family later moved to Juneau and then Anchorage, where Bob Gillam graduated from West High School in 1964. Gillam headed East to plead his college-admissions case in person and was successful — admitted a spot at Wharton, the Ivy League's college's business school.

According to information provided by his son, Gillam has donated to charities including Bean's Cafe, United Way of Anchorage, Catholic Social Services, Anchorage Museum, University of Anchorage, Alaska Pacific University and his own Gillam Foundation and student scholarships.

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