Former Oklahoma Governor David Walters has likely logged more miles traveling internationally than any other business executive in Oklahoma. Millions of miles and hundreds of trips reflect the creation of networks, close relationships, programs and business transactions that make David Walters a universal citizen.
Governor Walters is best known in Oklahoma for his public service. Many know his background…. from a small farm community in Western Oklahoma, putting himself through the University of Oklahoma and receiving an Engineering degree, Then serving in the administration at the University of Oklahoma, where he left to obtain a Harvard Business School Degree and returned to provide leadership at the OU Medical Center for 5 years. He entered large-scale commercial real estate development where he worked to build high rise buildings and hotels. He ran for Governor as a complete unknown in 1986 and won his party’s nomination but not the general election. Four years later in 1990, he set a 36-year record for the margin of victory. David Walters brought his engineering and business administration education and his experience in business, his higher education administration, Medical Center administration, experience as Chair of the Department of Human Services Commission and Co-chair of the 1984, 100 member Commission on Government Reform and his Western Oklahoma farm based good sense and problem solving skills to the Governor’s Office. He was only 39 years old.
Presiding over a $7 billion organization employing 135,000 people, Governor Walters reduced the number of state government employees for the first time in the history of the State of Oklahoma. He aggressively promoted economic development, achieving a 15-year record in job growth. He successfully opposed all tax increases and yet oversaw a 30% increase in education funding by reallocating budget dollars. Walters passed the first capital improvements bond issue in Oklahoma in 25 years, investing over $350 million dollars in the State's Higher Education facilities, including a fiber optic communications network. He advanced the first workers compensation insurance reform in 15 years, causing substantial rate reductions. Governor Walters led trade delegations to eight nations during his term. Oklahoma's international trade grew at twice the national average during his term in office. He brought NASA engineers to Oklahoma to start a telemedicine network for remote rural health care. This all happened in four years.
Choosing not to run for re-election, David Walters entered the independent power industry. Walters has developed dozens of independent power projects all over the world. He negotiated and signed agreements on projects in China, Australia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Ecuador, Pakistan, India, the United Kingdom, Spain, Finland, United Arab Emirates, France, Bulgaria, Poland, South Africa, Benin, Nigeria, Rwanda and in several locations in the U.S. Since 1995, David made over 200 international trips to 32 countries, traveling over 4,000,000 miles. It is estimated that he has initially developed or has played a significant role in the development of more than $2.5 billion of projects and transactions. Walters work in South Asia has been noted by the national press. In 2010 his work in Pakistan was featured in Forbes Magazine and the September 2011 issue of Vanity Fair identified Walters as a back channel negotiator communicating in 1999, two years prior to 9/11, between the U.S. Government and the Taliban in an effort to get Afghanistan to expel Osama Bin Laden.
Walters Power International (WPI) is currently active in Africa. Near desperation needs exist for electric power in Africa, demand is growing rapidly but large scale commercially viable transactions are few. Walters and his staff have learned the value of tenacity and are able to steadily apply their expertise, lessons, and credibility to do what few others can do…structure viable projects in poor underdeveloped countries. Recently Walters and his team, working on behalf of a joint venture partner, have completed a long negotiation for over $30M of financing from European based donor nations, for the first ever private power plant in the small country of Benin, that has 10 million residents desperate for better access to electricity.
International experiences are deep and varied. David and his spouse Rhonda, have walked the streets of Kashmir listening to the music played by the make shift barrel cookers, producing the meals and playing melodic tunes on their steel plates over their open flames. They gazed out from the Great Wall. David has found himself without a Portuguese translator in the middle of the Amazon, he has been deported from an African nation when they changed their mind about the planned airport issued visa. He barely made it out of Pakistan, where he has traveled 30 times, due to a Visa issue and he was inoculated with Yellow Fever with a used needle in a rusty shack before boarding a flight from Quito, Ecuador to Rio de Janeiro. He once flew on a dark and dingy Russian domestic flight from Moscow to Georgia where the cabin contained people and livestock. A contract flight from Karachi to India was so perilous that a young assistant swore to his God that he would immediately marry his girlfriend upon his safe return to the states, which he did, it didn’t last. He has eaten raw oysters on the streets of Saigon and lived, but got such food poisoning in Hong Kong at a five star restaurant that caused him to lay in the original Mandarin Oriental praying for death. While creating a significant power company in the UK David and Rhonda had a flat overlooking Hyde Park, where the evening strolls seemed to always put the world into perspective. In 2018 he flew to Egypt, Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and London ….and home….in 7 days. He is fond of saying that life is a marathon and one should savor the moment, but he also has hanging on his wall the phrase…”If you want to be a wheel you gotta roll”!
David Walters and his wife Rhonda own Oklahoma Property Investors, which owns and operates over 500,000 s.f. of commercial real estate in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
David Walters has been recognized for his political, business, community and philanthropic leadership by numerous state and national organizations and is frequently called upon for speeches and positions on the issues of the day. He recently was the founding President, serving for 8 years to establish, operate and fund raise for the Santa Fe Family Life Center, a sports and exercise outreach for disabled and disadvantaged children. David and Rhonda started what has become one of the largest OU Medical Center endowed chairs in Pediatrics in honor of their late son Shaun. They are active in Our Lady’s Cathedral Catholic Parish and David recently co-chaired a multi-million fundraising effort for the church. The nations largest Native American tribe recognized David in 2018 with its highest honor bestowed on a non-Indian, the Worchester Award, for his support of Oklahoma’s significant Native American population. He has been elected to lead the largest civic organization in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City Rotary Club which is also the second largest such Rotary out of 38,000 Rotary Clubs worldwide. He was selected by the Sisters Cities organization in 2019 for their Global Vision award.
David continues to be active in shaping public policy. He organized and ran a multi-million dollar independent expenditure campaign for the 2018 election hoping to move Oklahoma to a more progressive status….he was elected in 2019 to the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee, a rare opportunity to help direct one of the great national parties. He is currently active in organizing and supporting initiative petitions for an independent expenditure campaign and for the expansion of Medicaid funding in Oklahoma. He is also organizing a progressive policy and candidate independent advocacy organization called the Oklahoma Center.
David and Rhonda are crazy about their grandchildren….Ella (14), Harrison (12), Everett (5) and Hattie Lou (2)….they are close to their daughters and their husbands Tanna and Bryan, Kristen and Jake and Elizabeth and Michael….they also are only a beloved memory away from their late son Shaun.
In addition to their family Rhonda and David find themselves increasingly grateful for their many friends, the wonderful past experiences and great opportunities ahead and the guidance that they have from their Catholic faith.