By Ben Schooley
Phil and Diane Pfeiffer’s quest for more family time enabled them to focus not only on their own family, but to invest substantial energies into improving the lives of
countless families throughout our area.
From the sleepy town of La Porte, Texas, Phil Pfeiffer learned early on the value of community involvement as well as a strong work ethic. With six siblings, and a father that was the mayor of La Porte for almost 20 years, Phil quickly saw what it took to become successful not only in business, but in life.
Phil begins, “My dad was an electrical contractor. He was a second generation contractor, but started his own company in 1962 in La Porte. He sold the company to my brother and his sons, where it was eventually sold, but continues as Pfeiffer and Sons.” Watching his father run the family business, Phil saw the value of earning a dollar, and he bounced between jobs as a electrician’s helper, a deck hand on a yacht, and even a bowling alley janitor. While he earned spending money working the odd jobs, he also quickly gravitated toward leadership roles throughout high school, eventually becoming President of the Texas State Association of Student Councils. “Everybody told me I should be a lawyer. Throughout high school I was involved in leadership roles and people thought that these roles were consistent with being a lawyer, so I figured that was as good a plan as any. When my older brother and I started college, we were the first in our family to do so.”
Phil continues, “I graduated high school in ’65, and like most kids I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and I figured I’d just keep my options open. Sam Houston State offered me a scholarship in physics. It was a one year scholarship, and I knew that I was looking toward law school and I knew that physics wasn’t going to help with that unless I went with patent law, so I ended up majoring in History and Political Science.” Phil laughs, “It was vitally important to me that I did not have a lab every afternoon.”
Throughout high school, and continuing into college, Phil and Diane had an “on-again, off-again” relationship. As they progressed through college, they fell out of touch with one another and didn’t reconnect for three years. Diane explains, “We ran into each other at a movie theatre in Houston. It was right before spring break of his senior year. We re-connected, and we were married 18 months later.” She continues, “I guess one of the things that I liked the most was that our families knew each other, our values were the same, and I loved that. He also had this great career path, and I always knew he would be a wonderful father. My prediction on both counts came true.” Phil adds, “I was always chasing her. I had always hoped to see her again, and she’s a beautiful woman! I had had strong feelings for her for a long time.”
Phil was the President of the Student Body his senior year at Sam Houston State, and was accepted into the Law program at both the University of Texas, as well as the University of Houston. “I decided that I was going to attend U of H because I could work part time. However, SMU had a Sumner’s Foundation scholarship that was for students in Texas or adjoining states who performed well academically, but had also been involved in community in some fashion. Luckily, I was awarded that in ‘69.” As part of his scholarship, the Pfeiffers had to take a brief detour. In order to attend law school he had to attend a ROTC program in Arlington for two years, while Diane taught the 3rd grade. Pfeiffer graduated his law program as #2 in his class in 1972, and was quickly snatched up by Fulbright & Jaworski, which was one of the three largest law firms in Texas.
“I initially wanted to specialize in maritime law. Coming from La Porte, I enjoyed the water and boats and thought I would enjoy a practice centered around that. However, when I showed up, an associate had just begun a specialization in that, so I was recruited to work in the labor and employment field and have enjoyed it. I focus on civil litigation with an emphasis on representing employers in labor disputes. The number one thing I like about my practice is the opportunity to work with outstanding companies that have as part of their mission not only treating their employees fairly but making their employees an integral part in the organization. Much of what I’ve done over the years is help those companies advance those objectives and defend them when somebody accuses them of violating policies. These companies are trying to do the right thing and I’ve enjoyed working with them.”
And true to form, Phil dove into his work with passion. “I made partner in ’79. My son and daughter were five and seven, and my hours were brutally long. I’d leave before they got up and would be home well past bedtime. I was doing work for a number of companies in south and central Texas. I noticed how much of my family’s life I was missing, and knew that it wasn’t the way I wanted things to be long term.”
After Diane and Phil discussed the situation, he submitted a report with reasons for opening an office in San Antonio and why he should be chosen to open and run it. Fulbright & Jaworski had just selected a new managing partner. The day after Phil had submitted his proposal, he was given a confident “YES” to the San Antonio branch; with that, Fulbright & Jaworski’s new branch was opened in the 1st quarter of 1980.
Initially, Diane had some reservations. “I had been to San Antonio when Phil was in the Army. I wasn’t too pleased with the move, though. We were very centered in our life and were plugged in. I respected Phil’s opinion, and the ages of the kids made it rather easy. It took me about six months to get used to it. We got plugged into a tennis group, made some great friends, and we all warmed up to it pretty quickly. I eventually fell in love with the area. It’s a big city, but it has a very small town feel.”
While the family was acclimating, Phil was throwing his energies towards starting a new office and law practice virtually from scratch, which at the time was a brand new venture for the firm. “It was awfully difficult with the onset,” Phil says, “we were the outsiders. We were a large law firm, and were seen as interlopers. We focused on growing the practice, and started expanding into other practice areas. The firm also acquired a boutique public finance firm out of Dallas that helped us grow even more. They happened to have a partner here in San Antonio, so that helped us get a firmer foundation locally.”
As Phil focused his energies on a prospering law office that eventually grew into one of the largest and most well respected law firms in San Antonio and south Texas, he also began to give back to the community. Phil explains, “When we first started our office here in San Antonio, we were the new kids in town – we needed to contribute to the community as means of becoming part of the community. As we hired lawyers for the office, we encouraged all of them to do something to make this a better community; involve yourself in activities outside of the firm. I had a real interest in civic community charitable activities that could benefit the area, especially if it benefited children. Over the years, many of the people in the law firm have adopted the same focus of involvement and have done similar things.”
Phil’s charitable passion went well beyond volunteering time at a soup kitchen or working on a house with Habitat for Humanity. Instead, he used his business acumen to assist amazing organizations that would go on to have profound impacts, not only locally, but globally. “In the 1980s, I was part of the group that helped start what is now the Texas Research and Technology Foundation. It is 1,000+ acres between San Antonio and Castroville that is focused on advanced research and medical technology. I then worked heavily with the San Antonio Medical Foundation. It was formed in 1947 and it was the entity whose purpose was to recruit and attain a medical school for San Antonio. It has been the catalyst for the South Texas Medical Center. Along the way, I was working with Christus Children’s Hospital Foundation, then Southwest Research Institute, where currently I am the Chairman. For many years I’ve been on the Board of the United Way and led a multi-year reorganization effort where we moved from simply funding existing non-profit organizations to the development of a strategy to targeting specific problem areas that a single agency could not address.”
Still heavily involved with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), it’s an organization that Phil is quite passionate about. “SwRI now has approximately 3,000 employees. The organization is simply amazing and I’m so honored to be a part of it. Some might not recognize the name, but some of the things that they have done are truly outstanding. They are the entity that determined how and why the Challenger shuttle crashed. They are the leading outside contractor on NASA’s Mars and Jupiter missions. They developed, tested, and made the prototype modifications to the Humvees used in Iraq and Afghanistan that significantly reduced the injuries to our military. This is a world-class organization that is devoted to work to advance the public good.” Additionally, Phil sits on the board for Valero Energy Corporation.
As their children (Shannon and Philip John, Jr) had grown and moved on to begin their own families, Phil eventually retired in 2005 after 25 years as the managing partner of Fulbright’s San Antonio office. He still handles a handful of clients, and says “I’ll keep doing it part time as long as it’s still fun.” But with an empty house, the Pfeiffers began to look toward retirement and somewhere to settle that was outside of the city. “In ’08 we were living in Sendero Ranch in San Antonio, and we had a couple of friends from Palm Springs, CA who came to this area because they had heard about this place called Cordillera Ranch. We had never even heard of it. We decided to tag along with them and within short order we knew that this would be a wonderful place to live, and knew it would be great for the grandkids. Our friends from Palm Springs never ended up coming, but we bought property in ’08.”
According to the Pfeiffers, the fit has been perfect. “The quality of people that live here is absolutely amazing. They are just the icing on the cake. The grandkids come out for a few weeks each summer, and they just love it. Between all the club camps, they just have a blast. There is so much for them to do here. And for Diane and myself, it’s just wonderful. We are heavily involved with the Clubs, playing golf, the Nature Club, the Wine Club; we could just go on and on. You are surrounded by people that, after successful careers, just genuinely love where they live now, and it shows in all the people that you meet here.”
True to the central basis for so many of the Pfeiffer’s decisions, it all begins and ends with family. “Our biggest motivator for moving to San Antonio was family, and our ability to maximize our time together. As the kids moved off, our motivator was the grandkids and moving to Cordillera Ranch was central to that. And at the same time, my involvement in trying to improve our communities was centered around not only helping other families, but also providing my family with the best community we could. Each and every one of us should strive to not only focus on our families, but to improve our communities in any way possible – no matter how big or small we might feel the impact is, it still makes a difference.”