A ‘bold, imag­i­na­tive’ oil­man, phi­lan­thropist

Star-Telegram - - Front Page - BY CLIFF BRUNT

T. Boone Pick­ens, a brash and quotable oil ty­coon who grew even wealth­ier through cor­po­rate takeover at­tempts, died Wed­nes­day. He was 91.

Pick­ens was sur­rounded by friends and fam­ily when he died of nat­u­ral causes un­der hospice care at his Dal­las home, spokesman Jay Rosser said. 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 gen­er­ous

ly 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’ ad­vo­cacy for re­new­able en­ergy led to some un­usual al­liances. He had do­nated to many Repub­li­can can­di­dates since the 1980s, and in the 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign he helped bankroll tele­vi­sion ads by a group called Swift Boat Veter­ans for Truth that at­tacked Democratic nom­i­nee John Kerry. A few years later, Pick­ens en­dorsed a Kerry pro­posal to limit cli­mate change.

Pick­ens couldn’t du­pli­cate his oil riches in re­new­able en­ergy. In 2009, he scrapped plans for a huge Texas wind farm af­ter run­ning into dif­fi­culty get­ting trans­mis­sion lines ap­proved, and even­tu­ally his re­new­ables busi­ness failed.

“It doesn’t mean that wind is dead,” Pick­ens said at the time. “It just means we got a lit­tle bit too quick off the blocks.”

Pick­ens flirted with marketing wa­ter from West Texas, ac­quir­ing wa­ter rights in the early 2000s in hopes of sell­ing it to thirsty cities. But he couldn’t find a buyer, and in 2011 he signed a deal with nearby re­gional wa­ter sup­plier to sell the wa­ter rights be­neath 211,000 acres for $103 mil­lion.

In 2007, Forbes mag­a­zine es­ti­mated Pick­ens’ net worth at $3 bil­lion. He even­tu­ally slid be­low $1 bil­lion and off the mag­a­zine’s list of wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans. In 2016, the mag­a­zine put his worth at $500 mil­lion.

Besides his peri­patetic busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests, Pick­ens made huge do­na­tions to his alma mater, Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity – the foot­ball sta­dium bears his name, and he gave $100 mil­lion for en­dowed fac­ulty po­si­tions.

“He was the ultimate Cow­boy,” univer­sity Pres­i­dent Burns Har­gis said in a state­ment. “It is im­pos­si­ble to calculate his full im­pact on Ok­la­homa State. His his­toric gifts to aca­demics and ath­let­ics not only trans­formed the univer­sity, they in­spired thou­sands of oth­ers to join in the trans­for­ma­tion.”

Pick­ens’ foun­da­tion gave $50 mil­lion each to the Univer­sity of Texas’ M.D. An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter in Hous­ton and UT South­west­ern Med­i­cal Cen­ter at Dal­las. He was among those who signed a “giving pledge” started by bil­lion­aire in­vestor War­ren Buf­fet and Mi­crosoft co-founder Bill Gates, promis­ing to do­nate a ma­jor­ity of his wealth to char­ity.

“I firmly be­lieve one of the rea­sons I was put on this Earth was to make money and be gen­er­ous with it,” he said on his web­site.

Pick­ens was born in 1928 in Hold­enville, Ok­la­homa. 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 three­county 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 ma­neu­vered 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, Ok­la­homa, 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.

Pick­ens’ star faded in the 1990s. He lost con­trol of debt-rid­den Mesa, and his bullish­ness on nat­u­ral gas prices turned out to be a costly mis­take.

Af­ter leav­ing Mesa, Pick­ens in 1996 started BP Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, a bil­lion-dol­lar hedge fund fo­cused on en­ergy com­modi­ties and eq­ui­ties that de­liv­ered mam­moth gains.

There were dif­fi­cult times in his per­sonal life. In 2005, Pick­ens looked on as one of his sons, Michael, was ar­rested on se­cu­ri­ties-fraud charges – he pleaded guilty and was sen­tenced to five years’ pro­ba­tion and or­dered to re­pay $1.2 mil­lion.

Pick­ens owned a ranch in the Texas Pan­han­dle, an­other in Ok­la­homa, and a va­ca­tion re­treat in Palm Springs, Cal­i­for­nia.

Af­ter his fall in July 2017, he wrote on Linkedin that he was still men­tally strong, but “I clearly am in the fourth quar­ter.”

PAUL MOSE­LEY Star-Tele­gram file photo

Texas bil­lion­aire T. Boone Pick­ens, who amassed a for­tune as an oil ty­coon and cor­po­rate raider, later cham­pi­oned re­new­able en­ergy sources, in­clud­ing wind-gen­er­ated power. This photo was taken near his Dal­las of­fice in 2008.

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