Robert V. West Jr., 85; founder of independent oil producer Tesoro

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Robert V. West Jr., 85, who founded Tesoro Petroleum Corp. with a $1,000 investment and built it into one of the country’s largest independent oil producers, died Thursday of respiratory failure in San Antonio.

West, who once boasted that he had had “oil in my veins since I was a child,” said skeptics told him he would fail when he founded San Antonio-based Tesoro in 1964 as a spinoff of Texstar Petroleum.

“First, I was told I would not succeed because the company was so poorly capitalized and, second, that it would never succeed because it was in San Antonio and that it needed to be in oil centers such as Houston,” he recalled in 1982.

West wound up leading the first Fortune 500 company from San Antonio, one that reported $507 million in earnings last year.

West, who retired in 1992 after serving as chairman of the board and chief executive, was born in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up in Tulsa, Okla. He earned a doctorate in chemical and petroleum engineering from the University of Texas.