I found out about T. Boone Pickens' death today in the same manner a lot of others did: on Twitter. There was a bit of irony in that for me, considering that Twitter was how I came to meet him.
I met Boone Pickens because I wrote something about him that he didn't like. In short, I wrote that Pickens was dangerous to American energy companies. Long an advocate for the American oil and gas industry, Pickens didn't like what I had to say about his stance on OPEC and what he said the U.S. should do. So he sent me a private message on Twitter.
I was stunned, a bit (OK, a lot) nervous, and certainly starstruck. Pickens was a giant in the oil and gas industry, well-known as a corporate raider, and generally not someone who most folks would want to trifle with. Yet when we eventually spoke by phone a day later, the Pickens who confronted me about my description of his ideas as being dangerous for the industry he'd devoted nearly all of his life to was respectful and considerate. He didn't submit me to the verbal beating I expected.
Oh, no. What he did was far more nefarious. T. Boone Pickens invited me to meet with him, face-to-face. A week later, I flew to Dallas.
I arrived 20 minutes early at the hotel where we planned to meet for breakfast (for some strange reason, the fact that he ordered an egg white omelette with spinach is a detail that stands out). I then spent a few minutes checking email on my phone. Five minutes after I got there, I was interrupted from my phone staring by a short, somewhat unassuming elderly man. It was Pickens, showing up 10 minutes early and catching me off guard.
Pickens was really good at catching people off guard. He kept it up. The first thing he said after looking me up and down was: "You're wearing boots. I thought you were from Southern California." I explained that, while I did (and still do) live in Southern California, I'm from Georgia.
Pickens smiled, and immediately seized the opportunity to talk about one of his favorite subjects: Oklahoma State football. "Your Bulldogs may have a winning record against us, but my 'pokes [Oklahoma State Cowboys, or cowpokes as they're also known] won pretty big the last time we played."
In one fell swoop, Pickens demonstrated his eye for detail, his love for his alma mater, which has been the biggest benefactor of his charity (the football stadium bears his name), a photographic memory (Georgia and Oklahoma State last played five years prior to our meeting), and his uncanny ability to connect with people.
Even people who he disagrees with -- often people like me, who at the time, he wanted a chance to turn around to his way of thinking. To make a long story short, that breakfast didn't really change my view, but Pickens and I found a lot of other common ground.
I spent several days with Pickens later that year, and he agreed to sit for an in-depth interview you can watch below.
In addition to that interview, I spent hours in Pickens' company along with a few others, while he held court and shared stories that he's surely regaled hundreds of others with. Here are two of my favorite quotes from that trip, .
Changing your expectations when the circumstances change
I got several [college basketball] scholarship offers in '46. In '47, I only had one. I told the coach at Texas Tech, "Gosh, Coach, you offered me a scholarship in '46, I had a better season in '47." He told me, "Well, there were a lot of better players than you in '47.
The importance of having a plan
My dad said to me, "Son, your problem is you don't have a plan. You've never had a plan. A fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan. Your mother and I are concerned that our son is a fool with no plan." I stood there with my mouth open. "Son, I love you. Get a plan."
Pickens made a plan and then spent the next six decades disrupting the energy industry.
He told us a few other great stories that weekend (a few that I can't share in polite company), but here are my five most-unforgettable Boone Pickens quotes I can share. I hope you enjoy them.
Pickens died on September 11, 2019 of natural causes at the age of 91. He remained very healthy and active well into his late 80s, before a stroke and a series of falls in the past couple of years took a major toll on his health and ability to remain active.
Pickens wasn't without controversy, including his involvement in the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" attacks on John Kerry during his presidential campaign. To me, these are reminders that, like the rest of us, Pickens was a whole person, with faults and biases that sometimes lead people to actions they might later regret.
But despite Pickens' imperfections and my personal disagreements with him, I will remember his incredible legacy that includes making energy companies more shareholder friendly, being an early advocate for renewable energy, and maybe most important of all, how big a difference it makes if you just have a plan.
Pickens wasn't my friend. We didn't know each other that well and it's been years since we last spoke. But like so many others, he left a personal mark on me that's as big as the shadow he cast over the American energy industry for more than 60 years.