Qwest merger and Phil Anschutz: More riches for Colorado's richest man?

Qwest, the Denver-based company founded in 1966 by Phil Anschutz, is being acquired by CenturyTel in a deal that involves the swap of $10.6 billion in stock.

The impact of this mega-merger on Denver's economy will be the subject of much debate in the coming days. As for Anschutz, he's been divesting himself of Qwest holdings in recent years -- a decision that's enriched him to an impressive degree. Last September, for instance, Anschutz sold sixteen million shares of Qwest stock.

This move helped him become the top Coloradan on the most recent Forbes list of global billionaires, with a net worth that went up from $5 billion to $6 billion. Could the latest transaction add to that bounty?

Westword has been following the publicity-phobic Anschutz for years: Check out "The Miracle Worker," a 1998 profile; 2001's aptly headlined "The Invisible Man;" and "Holy Bankroller," a 2005 look at his ventures into filmmaking.

Anschutz experienced a few bumps on his road to super-wealth, a number of them involving Qwest. As noted here, "the 2002 September issue of Forbes branded Anschutz America's 'greediest executive,' a claim that seemed prescient when he agreed to repay US$4.4 million for accepting valuable IPO shares from Salomon Smith Barney investment bank in exchange for his firm Qwest's banking business." And then there's the ongoing corporate embarrassment that is former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio.

Somehow, though, Anschutz has managed to turn these problems into moolah, much as he transformed the financial bath he might have taken from the death of Michael Jackson on the eve of an Anschutz-bankrolled concert series into a cash bonanza.

Bet something similar will happen when the receipts from the Qwest-CenturyTel get-together are tallied.

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