Michael "Rooster" McConaughey (yes, brother of Matthew) and Wayne "Butch" Gilliam, the stars of the CNBC reality series "West Texas Investors Club," have been competitors for "around 30 or 40 years, now," according to Gilliam. (What's a decade to old friends?) The two built businesses and made millions the old-fashioned way: oil. More specifically, they supplied oil companies with pipes to carry all that black gold.
Somewhere along the way to making their fortunes, the two became pals and started an investment group, West Texas Ltd., in 2007. "It wasn't something we figured out right away," Gilliam, 59, drawls. "But if you put all your energy into screwing people over, you're gonna end up doing some goofy things."
"We're fair," McConaughey, 61, adds. "But sometimes you gotta protect your own backyard."
So what binds these two together? Or more to the point, why join forces for a company and reality TV series in which entrepreneurs pitch them the opportunity to invest in products like an electronic beer tap designed with the perfect pour in mind?
For the native Texans — they both pronounce it "bidness" — it's a need to pay forward not just their wealth, but the lessons they learned themselves: To teach America that greed is not good, that there's more to building a business than just making money.
International Business Times spoke with Gilliam and McConaughey Thursday in long, sometimes rambling phone conversation about the show, how to go bankrupt the right way, and what might save us from the cash-grab mindset they consider an epidemic in the business community. A small portion of that interview lies below.
International Business Times: You both have sort of outlandish personas, which might attract some outlandish pitches.
Butch Gilliam: I had a guy pitch me an idea once about a "multiple glass system." I said, "A multiple glass system ... for what?" He said, "For your car." I said, "I dunno what you're talking about." He said, "You have, like, three windows, so if somebody breaks your window down, you sweep all that glass out and roll another one up." I said, "Man, sounds to me like you need to move." I passed on that one.
IBT: When you turn people down on the show, what's the biggest reason, usually?
Gilliam: Most of the time, it's because we don't think they need us. We don't want to take advantage of people just because they're vulnerable or lack the experience in how to manage their company. If that's all they need, we make some suggestions about how to go back home and redo this or that.
Rooster McConaughey: We don't just say, "We don't think you can make us money, goodbye." We really try to go into it and tell them why we don't think we would be a good partner for them. We're not here just to see all these dadgum ideas and get into every one of them and make a gazillion dollars. We do this to send a message about how people should do business. You don't need to be in a hurry. Why you gonna bring in people you don't have to? Are you lonely, or what?
IBT: What's the biggest mistake people make when they come in to pitch?
Gilliam: People come in with this grandeur: They just want to sell their company and make a pile of money and that's all they're focused on. And they haven't even got the damn thing established yet! I've sold a couple businesses, and buyers don't want to come into a business as screwed up as a soup sandwich. Another thing that helps is history. Some of these guys come in, "Oh, I've been in business for three months."
McConaughey: Roots, you need roots. I'm in charge of mistakes — I've made quite a few myself. I went into Chapter 7 before I was even 30. But what helped me is I continued to pay my vendors. One time I owed a guy, I think it was $20,000. I said I promised I'd pay him, I'd been paying him years before, and he called me up and said, "Listen to this," and started ripping up the invoice. "I refuse to take your money — you know how many people haven't even tried paying me?" There's a lot of people that stood behind me because I kept trying and trying. You meant well, you paid your dues, you got going. Outside people just helped me.
IBT: It feels like we no longer live in a world where people would offer that kind of help.
McConaughey: It should! That's what we're trying to say to people. It's about teaching people to do it the right way, even if you only make half the money. Butch had help, I had help, and yeah, people would do it, but they're so blinded by makin' a ton of money so damn quick.
Gilliam: By any damn way possible.
McConaughey: Some of the people who helped me out were competitors. Today? They would've stuck their boot in my face and held me under the water. It's ruthless out there.
Gilliam: Let me tell you something: As hard as it is to make money in any business, it's harder to hang onto it. And the biggest thieves on the planet wear a nice suit and tie or a very nice dress. And they can rob you blind with the blessing of the law. It's shameful, it is, that our country allows this.
IBT: Does that mean we need more regulation?
McConaughey: Hopefully people will start changing on their own, but maybe they can start making some different laws. It's easier to screw people out of money legally than it is illegally. A Korean friend of mine said to me once, "You people in America are nuts. A man goes to a 7-Eleven and robs $50 at gunpoint, he goes to prison for 50 years. A man steals millions of dollars and they don't do nothin' to him."
Gilliam: Pursuit of the dollar, it's like war. There's no rules. It's sickening. It doesn't matter how much you make, all you're left with at the end of the day is your character. The dollars won't come with you.
"West Texas Investors Club" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (EDT) on CNBC.