The Luckiest Guy in the World
By Boone Pickens
2000/10 - Beard Books
1587980193 - Paperback - Revised - 381 pp.
Boone Pickens is a paean to American opportunity and a tribute to competitive grit, the entrepreneurial spirit, and just plain courage to follow one's convictions.
This is the autobiography of a man who turned a $2500 investment into America's largest independent oil company, Mesa Petroleum, in just thirty years. It is truly an American success story, tracing how Boone Pickens got from a little town in eastern Oklahoma to the towering buildings of Wall Street in exciting, unlikely, and sometimes painful stages. In 1983, to save Mesa Petroleum from impending disaster, he entered into a risky game, identifying undervalued, mismanaged companies, such as Gulf, Phillips, and Unocal, and making huge investments in them. His plan was to try to force the management to do something for their stockholders, including himself, and if they refused, he would try to take them over. His countless gambles paid off, adding a number of companies to his corral.
Review by Gail Owens Hoelscher
"This is the story of a man who turned a $2,500 investment into America's largest independent oil company in thirty years and along the way discovered that something is terribly wrong with corporate America. Mesa Petroleum is the company, and I'm the man." Thus begins the autobiography of Boone Pickens, who prefers to be referred to without his first initial, "T."
Mr. Pickens' autobiography was originally published in 1987, at the end of the rollercoaster years when he was one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) and most-feared corporate raiders during a decade known for corporate raiding. For the 2000 Beard Books edition, Pickens wrote an additional five chapters about the subsequent, equally tumultuous, 13 years, during which time he suffered corporate raiders of his own, recapitalized, and retired, only to see his beloved company merge with Pioneer. One of his few laments is being remembered mainly for the high-profile years, rather than for the company he built from virtually nothing.
Of the takeover attempts, he says:
"I saw undervalued assets in the public marketplace. My game plan with Gul, Phillips, and Unocal wasn't to take on Big Oil. Hell, that wasn't my role. My role was to make money for the stockholders of Mesa. I just saw that Big Oil's management had done a lousy job for their stockholders."
He would prefer to be known as a champion of the shareholder rights movement, which prompted big corporations to become more responsive to the needs and demands of their stockholders. He founded the United Shareholders Association, a group that successfully lobbied for changes in corporate governance. In a memorable interview in the May/June 1986 Harvard Business Review, Pickens said, "Chief executives, who themselves own few shares of their companies, have no more feeling for the average stockholder than they do for baboons in Africa."
Boone Pickens was born in 1928 in Holdenville, Oklahoma. His grandfather was Methodist missionary to the Indians there; his father was a lawyer and small player in the oil business. People in Holdenville worked hard and used such expressions as "Root hog or die," meaning "Get in and compete or fail."
The family later moved to Amarillo, Texas, where Pickens went to Texas A&M for one year, but graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1951 with a degree in geology. He worked at Phillips Petroleum for three years, and then, despite growing family obligations, struck out on his own. His wife's uncle told him, "Boone, you don't have a chance. You don't know anything."
This books is a wonderful read. Pickens pulls no punches, and is as hard on himself as anyone else. He talks about proxy fights, Texas-Oklahoma football games, his three marriages, poker, takeover strategies, and unfair duck hunting practices, all in the same easy tone. You feel like he's sitting right there in the room with you.
Pickens ends the introduction to this story with this:
"How I got from a little town in Eastern Oklahoma to the towers of Wall Street is an exciting, unlikely, sometimes painful story. And, if you're young and restless, I'm hoping you'll make a journey similar to mine."
Root hog or die!
Thomas Boone Pickens was born on May 22, 1928 in Holdenville, Oklahoma. He then moved on to Amarillo and attended Texas A&M in 1951. After working as a roughneck and in a refinery, he became a geologist for Phillips Petroleum, which he left in 1954.
He founded Mesa Petroleum in 1956, when he founded Petroleum Exploration with Eugene McCartt and John O'Brien. In three years, PEI had attracted a group of Amarillo investors and in 1958, discovered eight gas and one oil well in sixteen tries. In 1959, Pickens formed Altair Oil and Gas Company which explored oil in Canada, serving both as president and major stockholder.
The next years saw continuous growth, with the formation of Standard Gilsonite in 1960, and remarkable increase in both employees and investors. PEI eventually evolved to become Mesa Petroleum (after a friendly merger with Pioneer, a large Amarillo independent oil and gas company), also known as Mesa Limited Partnership, the nation's largest independent producer of domestic oil and gas and one of its largest gas producers.
Pickens also succeeded in oil futures, but it was his repeated attempts to take over companies much larger than his own that led to his and the company's greatest fame. By the 1980s he came to believe that acquiring other companies had become more profitable than oil exploration and production. His skill lay in an ability to identify undervalued companies and make a profit when outside parties and the markets recognized their value.
Mr. Pickens is a respected spokesman for business and industry. He has earned a national reputation for his innovative thinking and executive management.
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