The youngest of four boys, Kelcy Warren was born in 1955 in Gladewater, Texas, a small town in the eastern part of the state. His father worked for Sun Oil as a ditchdigger and gauger and eventually became a field clerk. "My father had only a high school education, and I am so proud of what he was able to do with his life," Warren said. "He was an amazing man, but he was not driven. He was content with this job, which allowed him time to go to high school football games or to drop into the local coffee shop to visit with friends. He was a sweet guy. He never used profanity or said anything bad about anyone. He was just remarkable."
Warren's mother, who worked in a department store, grew up in Louisiana and never completed her final year of high school. It was very important to her that her sons graduate from high school and go on to college. "She pounded that into our heads from the very beginning," says Warren. "My older brother was the first person to receive a college education in our entire family."
Warren loved growing up in his hometown, which was small enough that he felt he knew everyone. The Baptist church played a central role in his family life. "If the church doors were open, we went in," says Warren, whose family attended church twice on Sundays. "We were also a Boy Scout family. My mother served as my den leader when I was young, and then my father was my Scoutmaster. My father also served as president of the school board, and when I was in high school, my mother was president of the PTA. I hit the lottery with my parents. They were loving and involved, and that's an advantage I had over some others I knew."
Because finances were a chronic worry in the Warren household, his parents, even though both had jobs, often looked for new ways to earn extra money. One idea was to open a trailer park, which helped subsidize the family income. For a while, Warren's father took on a paper route. "My dad would get up at 2:30 in the morning to roll papers and put rubber bands around them, but he didn't mind. He liked the tranquility those hours gave him. Unfortunately, I often had to get up to help him with the deliveries."
Warren began doing odd jobs when he was 12. He hauled hay and worked for 30 cents an hour at a gas station. When he was older, he took on jobs that were oilfield-related. He was part of a gang that repaired oilfield leaks, was a welder's helper, did pipeline construction, and worked as a lineman maintaining telephone lines for meter reading. His father always encouraged the teenaged Warren to work and save money.
Warren wanted to do well in school, and he accomplished that goal. His high school counselor, when asked what was the highest-paying job Warren could get with a four-year degree, advised him to major in engineering. In 1974, Warren enrolled in the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), paying his way through with all he had earned in his teen years. "I had grown up sheltered and in a town where I was known," he says. "If I did anything wrong, my parents knew about it in five minutes. But at school, I had so much freedom. Clearly, I didn't know how to handle it, and I flunked out at the end of my first year."
When Warren returned home, his father told him that he had been given an opportunity he did not appreciate. He offered his son the chance to work with him and attend the local junior college at night. "I grew up that year," says Warren. "UTA took me back the following year, and I did well after that."
Warren had an engineering professor, Dr. Syed Qasim, who knew about his failed freshman year. Qasim encouraged his student to apply for a scholarship to work on a research project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Warren applied, got the scholarship, and won the top award for his project on methane gas production. "That was a turning point for me," says Warren. "It was a boost to my self-confidence and helped me believe I could compete with others in my field."
Warren graduated in 1978 with a degree in civil engineering. Lone Star Gas Company hired him as a pipeline design engineer. Three years later, he joined Endevco, a small energy development company, where he moved into the commercial aspect of energy development.
In 1992, Warren and a partner acquired Endevco and changed the name to Cornerstone Natural Gas. They sold it four years later. Warren then co-founded Energy Transfer, eventually becoming its chairman. Energy Transfer's family of partnerships gathers, treats, processes, and transports natural gas, natural gas liquids, refined products, and crude oil. Warren has overseen one of the country's largest and most diversified portfolios of publicly traded energy partnerships.
Warren has experienced great success in his career, but he believes success is something he will always strive for and never fully achieve. "I think success is not having any regrets," he says. "I think success is a pinnacle I have yet to climb."
When Warren meets with young people, he advises them to be honest with themselves. "It's also important to have balance in your life," he says. "When you are ambitious, it's easy to work too much and neglect other important aspects of your life. I am a work in progress and still attempting to keep my life balanced in all areas. I've had more success with that in the last decade."
Honored by his Horatio Alger Award, Warren has this to say: "I'm anxious to learn more about the scholarship programs. The young people the Horatio Alger Association are helping to get a college education have had more adversity in their lives than I had. But education is so important; you can't have too much these days. The award and the mission of the organization are just incredible."
In 1997, Warren established an endowment at his alma mater, UTA, in honor of Qasim, the professor who took a personal interest in Warren and his fellow students. Warren was the lead donor to the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, which is recognized as one of the nation's three most successful urban parks. He named the park in honor of his 14-year-old son.
Warren has hosted an annual fundraiser for Cherokee Crossroads, Inc., which finances children's charities in Texas. He has also served on the board for The Lamplighter School and belongs to the Texas Business Hall of Fame. Warren has received the Gas Processors Suppliers Association's Hanlon Award as well as Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Award.