Home Featured Story T. Boone Pickens — the ‘Oracle of Oil’

T. Boone Pickens — the ‘Oracle of Oil’


T. Boone Pickens — the ‘Oracle of Oil’

The breadth of T. Boone Pickens' career is staggering. He built the largest independent oil company in the United States and flourished as an entrepreneur after leaving it, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Among his lengthy accolades, Financial World named him CEO of the Decade in 1989 and the Oil and Gas Investor listed him as one of the “100 Most Influential People of the Petroleum Century.

“The thing you have to understand about Boone is that it’s all about action,” longtime associate Bobby Stillwell said in 2004. “There’s no sitting around.”

T. Boone Pickens was a child of the depression, and through the guidance of his grandmother and parents learned lessons of frugality and the privilege of working.


As a youth, his family moved to Amarillo, Texas, where he attended high school. After one year at Texas A&M University, Pickens transferred to Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University), where he earned a degree in geology in 1951.

In 2006, after Pickens had bequeathed a NCAA record $176 million to OSU, Texas A&M's 12th Man Magazine included cutting Pickens from a $25-a-month basketball scholarship because he was too short and “not fast enough to scatter leaves” as one of the top 10 mistakes in Aggie history.

Pickens worked for Phillips Petroleum for three years before striking out on his own in 1954. With $2,500 of borrowed money, Pickens and two investors formed an oil and gas firm called Petroleum Exploration Inc., which focused on domestic oil and gas opportunities. Later, he formed Altair Oil & Gas Co. to pursue oil and gas exploration opportunities in western Canada. Both were predecessor companies to Mesa Petroleum, which he took public in 1964. Pickens built Mesa into one of America’s largest independent natural gas and oil companies. Mesa produced more than 3 trillion cubic feet of gas and 150 million barrels of oil from 1964 to 1996.

During speeches in the early 1980s, Pickens began spreading a shareholder mantra focused on maximizing shareholder value virtually unheard of at the time but now an accepted part of American corporate culture. The main points: All shareholders should know that they, not management, are the true owners of the company; that shareholders need to inform management when they don’t feel that their interests and management’s interest coincide; that one of the biggest reasons for this difference is that most managements are not substantial shareholders — and, apparently, don’t want to be; and that each employee of a company should have the opportunity to become a shareholder, giving them a higher stake in the game.

“What we’re seeing is a transformation of Corporate America,” he told the Economic Club of Detroit in 1988. “The new focus is on results instead of size, on creating value rather than empires.”

When at 68 he left the independent oil company he had nurtured for 40 years, he reinvented himself, built a new, highly successful company, and made more money than he ever had before. During the past few years, his uncanny on-the-mark forecasts on the price of oil have made him the focus of major news programs and led CNBC to label him the "Oracle of Oil."


During the span of his career, Pickens has made hundreds of millions of dollars— for others as well as himself — and he isn’t timid about spreading it around. “I like making money. I like giving it away,” he has often said. The breadth of his philanthropy — nearly $700 million — includes medical research, athletics, and academic projects. In 2006, his charitable activities, which included $175 million and the establishment of the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, placed him on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of top U.S. philanthropists for the second straight year. His Foundation is focused on improving lives through grants supporting educational programs, health and medical research and services, athletics and corporate wellness, the entrepreneurial process, at-risk youth, and conservation and wildlife initiatives.


A number of his post-Mesa Petroleum initiatives reflect a long-standing vision about America’s reliance on fossil fuels and his love for both the land and individual rights. Perhaps Pickens’ most dramatic move occurred in July 2008, when he launched a $62 million national advertising campaign to promote the Pickens Plan, an energy policy aimed at reducing the American addiction to foreign oil.

In television and print advertisements, in stories and every imaginable talk-show format, appearances before Congress, and town hall meetings across the country, he bluntly told other Americans: “I’ve been an oilman my whole life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.” His scribbling white board presentations, in which he outlined the impact of Peak Oil and the U.S. dependence on imports, became water cooler talk throughout the nation.

“A fool with a plan is better than a genius with no plan, and we look like fools without a plan,” he repeatedly has said.

Named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2009, Pickens has warned the country could very well be spending $10 trillion on foreign oil within a decade, gaining the ear and imagination of both bi-partisan political support and the public at large. More than 1.6 million people have enlisted in his “Pickens Army,” and the campaign is encouraging an outpouring of fresh ideas and a new generation of Americans to become involved in the policy process. Pickens travels the nation sharing with audiences his urgent plea to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, invest in alternative energy and look for other ways to enhance U.S. energy security and stability.

He has brought his solution — a combination of wind farms along the Wind Belt, the vast corridor that extends the length of the Great Plains, from Texas to the Canadian border, and a transfer of a portion of the natural gas from electricity generation to transportation use — to the forefront of American debate and legislative action.

The campaign reaped immediate results in both the 2009 Economic Stimulus Plan and Congressional legislation that pushed forward a new transmission grid plan and support for alternative energy resources, including wind, solar, and natural gas as transportation fuel initiatives. His 2008 New York Times Best Seller (the second of his career), The First Billion is the Hardest, also details what this country must do to win back its energy independence.

Although tight credit markets and transmission line issues have prompted Pickens to cancel 2007-announceed plans for the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, Pickens remains fully committed to wind energy and to developing wind projects in the United States and, perhaps, Canada. His Mesa Power Group continues to pursue smaller projects throughout the United States and Canada through the American Wind Alliance, a cooperative formed with General Electric. For "his vision and leadership in moving the wind industry forward,” the American Wind Energy Association named Pickens its 2009 Industry Person of the Year.

To learn more about the Pickens Plan, visit http://www.pickensplan.com/