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Industry icon T. Boone Pickens dead at 91


September 12, 2019  


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T. Boone Pickens, a brash and quotable oil tycoon who grew even wealthier through corporate takeover attempts, died Wednesday at the age of 91.

Pickens was surrounded by friends and family when he died of natural causes under hospice care at his Dallas, Texas home, spokesman Jay Rosser told the Associated Press. Pickens suffered a series of strokes in 2017 and was hospitalized that July after what he called a “Texas-sized fall.”

An only child who grew up in a small railroad town in Oklahoma, Pickens followed his father into the oil and gas business. After just three years, he formed his own company and built a reputation as a maverick, unafraid to compete against oil-industry giants.

In the 1980s, Pickens switched from drilling for oil to plumbing for riches on Wall Street. He led bids to take over big oil companies including Gulf, Phillips and Unocal, castigating their executives as looking out only for themselves while ignoring the shareholders.

Even when Pickens and other so-called corporate raiders failed to gain control of their targets, they scored huge payoffs by selling their shares back to the company and dropping their hostile takeover bids.

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that Pickens became a household name because he was “bold, imaginative and daring.”

“He was successful, and more importantly, he generously shared his success with institutions and communities across Texas and Oklahoma,” Bush said. “He loved the outdoors, his country and his friends and family, and Laura and I send our condolences.”

Later in his career, Pickens championed renewable energy including wind power. He argued that the United States needed to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. He sought out politicians to support his “Pickens Plan,” which envisioned an armada of wind turbines across the middle of the country that could generate enough power to free up natural gas for use in vehicles.

“I’ve been an oilman all my life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of,” he said in 2009.

Pickens was born in 1928 in Holdenville, Okla. His father was a landman, someone who secures mineral-rights leases for oil and gas drilling. His mother ran a government office that handled gasoline-rationing coupons for a three-county area during World War II.

A child of the Depression, Pickens credited his father with teaching him to take risks and praised his grandmother for lessons in being frugal. If young Boone continued to leave the lights on after leaving a room, she declared, she would hand the electric bill to the boy so he could pay it.

Pickens went to work by age 12, getting a newspaper route. He expanded it by buying the routes on either side of his — marking his first venture into acquisitions.

Although only 5-foot-8, Pickens was a star guard on his high school basketball team in Amarillo, Texas, and earned a sports scholarship to Texas A&M University. He lost the scholarship when he broke an elbow, and he transferred to Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State.

After graduating with a degree in geology, he joined Phillips Petroleum Co., where his father, T. Boone Pickens Sr., was working. The younger Pickens was unhappy with his job from the start.

After just three years, he borrowed some money and found two investors to start his own business, called Petroleum Exploration. That was a predecessor to Mesa Petroleum, an oil and gas company in Amarillo, which Pickens took public in 1964.

By the 1980s, the stock of the major petroleum producers was so cheap that it became cheaper to get new oil reserves by taking over a company than by drilling. Pickens set his sights on acquiring other companies.

In 1984, Mesa Petroleum made a profit of more than $500 million from a hostile bid for Gulf Corp., then the fifth-largest oil company in the United States, when Gulf manoeuvred to sell itself instead to Chevron. Before that, Pickens earned $31.5 million by driving Cities Service into the arms of Occidental Petroleum.

Later that year, Pickens launched a bid for his old employer, Phillips Petroleum. It was an unpopular move in Bartlesville, Okla., where Phillips was headquartered. Residents held 24-hour prayer vigils to support the company.

Pickens’ methods angered his targets.

“He’s only after the almighty buck,” G.C. Richardson, a retired executive of Cities Services, said in 1985. “He’s nothing but a pirate.”

Pickens insisted that he was a friend of ordinary shareholders, who benefited when his forays caused the stock price of a company to rise.

(Associated Press/Canadian Press)