Bob Anthony

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, Oklahoma Treasure.

Story and photo by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer

As the longest-serving public service commissioner in the nation, Bob Anthony has continued his family’s legacy of service to Oklahomans.

For the better part of the last 30 years, a wooden box has sat on Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony’s desk.
On top is the inscription, “The Secret to Success.”
Upon opening the box, you’ll find a single word: “Work.”
That same box sat on Charles Roth Anthony’s desk after the orphan of Tennessee farmers brought a unique family style of retail trade to Oklahoma and 20 other states.
Most know him as C.R. Anthony founder of Anthony’s.
But to Robert Holland Anthony, he was a grandad and one of the men who helped instill an indomitable work ethic and passion for service.
For decades now, Bob Anthony has poured into Oklahoma – the last 21 of those years as Corporation Commissioner.

C.R. Anthony company store in El Reno, Ok.

By all accounts, he has had a successful career.
“The word success, humility makes me have a pause there,” Anthony said. “Whatever (success I’ve had) I attribute to my parents and the upbringing, emphasis on education, and the opportunity to start working for our company at the age of 10.”
At 10, Anthony was getting up early on Saturday mornings to man the C.R. Anthony’s mailroom. From there he advanced to the warehouse then into the stores, sweeping up at the North May location.
The next summer, when he turned 16, he became one of the company’s top salesmen, helping people at the South Oklahoma City store.
All was under the watchful eye of his grandfather and his father, Guy.
His father served for three years in the Pacific during World War II and his older brother served in Vietnam as a Marine Corps lieutenant. Bob himself rose to the rank of Captain during his 12 years with the Army ROTC and the U.S. Army Reserves.

In 1922, C.R. Anthony opened his first family clothing store in Cushing. Upon the elder Anthony’s retirement in 1972, Bob’s father, Guy, became president of the company and served in that capacity for eight years.
Eventually, at the age of 32, Anthony would follow in his grandfather and father’s footsteps, serving as the company’s president from 1980-87.
Armed with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance, Harvard, Yale, and the London School of Economics, Anthony took his family’s company to new heights.
While Anthony’s may have been popular in Oklahoma, you may not have realized the chain was actually in 21 states and was the largest privately-owned company headquartered in Oklahoma, issuing some 14,000 W2s a year.
During his seven years as president and chairman of the executive committee, Anthonys had as many as 300 stores, and sales for the retail chain increased from $256 million to $411 million.
Sales, payroll, employment, and dollar profits reached all-time record levels.
In 1986, Anthony accepted the “Five Who Care” Corporate Humanitarian Award on behalf of the C.R. Anthony Company — only the third corporation to be so honored.
The award recognized Anthonys’ contributions to a variety of charitable organizations as well as the company’s employees and their involvement as volunteers in their respective communities across Oklahoma.

Bob rose to the rank of Captain in the Air Defense Artillery branch during his twelve-year association with ROTC and the U.S. Army Reserve.

Serving the public was nothing new to Bob Anthony, but public service was something different entirely.
In 1987, the shareholders voted to sell the C.R. Anthony Company to an investor group sponsored by Citicorp Venture Capital.
The $112 million transaction marked the largest venture capital investment in Oklahoma for more than a decade, and the value of the Anthony Company employee retirement trusts increased substantially.
The following year, Anthony launched his first of six victorious statewide political campaigns and was elected to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
“Somebody asked me to run,” Anthony said with a laugh. “I’d never been to the corporation commission.”
The Corporation Commission was established in 1907 by Article 9 of the Oklahoma Constitution, and the First Legislature gave the Commission authority to regulate public service corporations; defined as those businesses whose services are considered essential to the public welfare.
The legal principle for such regulation had been established in 1877 when the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, Munn v. Illinois, that when a private company’s business affects the community at large, it becomes a public entity subject to state regulation.
Initially, the Corporation Commission regulated transportation and transmission companies, mostly railroads and telephone and telegraph companies.
The Second Legislature put oil pipelines under regulation. The Commission began regulating the prices of telephone calls in 1908 and telegrams in April 1912. Regulation of water, heat, light, and power rates began in 1913.
The Commission began regulating oil and gas in 1914 when it restricted oil drilling and production in the Cushing and Healdton fields to prevent waste when production exceeded pipeline transport capacity.
As an officer and then public servant, Anthony saw distinct similarities in his roles.
“Both of them have the same oath of office – to support, obey, and defend the constitution,” Anthony said. “It’s a sacred duty and I’m proud the good Lord has given me an opportunity to be in service.”
“The scriptures also call us to serve, not to be served.”
Anthony has long been an Oklahoma favorite. He garnered 60 percent of the vote in 2018 during his last re-election campaign with more than 700,000 votes and carrying all 77 counties to earn a sixth-consecutive term.
In 2000, he received more votes than any candidate for state office in Oklahoma history.
Anthony is the longest current serving public service commissioner in the United States.
Oklahoma is one of only 10 states where commissioners are elected by the public. Positions are appointed by the governor or legislature in the remaining states.
His work for un-covering corruption earned him the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s highest citizen award in 1995
“My record in office reflects independence and commitment to the public interest and general welfare,” Anthony said. “No one has accused me of being owned by any special interest group.”
Many Oklahomans have fond memories of Anthony’s department stores. Whether it was shopping for new school clothes in August or Christmas presents in December, customers were always met with a smiling face at the register.
“The friendliest store in town” was C.R. Anthony’s slogan along with the idea of determining not how much, but how little something could be sold and still earn a profit.
Bob Anthony learned from an early age that if you worked for your customers and your employees everything else would fall into place.
And if he ever forgets, all he has to do is open that little wooden box.