I've been fortunate to have met with legendary energy investor and oilman T. Boone Pickens several times. Pickens loves telling stories, and after more than 86 years on the Earth, he's got a lot of stories to tell. The following are my favorite quotes from stories that I've heard directly from him. And while it's not as good as hearing Pickens tell them in person, I think you'll still appreciate it. Enjoy!
On being measured against your peers, and the importance of physical fitness
Many people don't know that Pickens received a scholarship to play basketball at Texas A&M, but after a year he transferred to what is now Oklahoma State. He said this to me the first time I met him:
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."
At 5' 9", Pickens probably wouldn't have lasted long as a professional basketball player. Either way, it looks like his backup career choice has worked out OK. Pickens was an early advocate for corporate wellness initiatives, and his Mesa Energy was named the "fittest company in America" during the '80s. In the photo to the right, he is pictured playing racquetball on the court he had constructed as part of Mesa's corporate fitness center. Pickens has told me that he used this as a way to get to know his employees as well, keeping his locker with all the employees and not in a separate executive area, regularly moving it so he could be around different people.
Even today, Pickens remains incredibly active at 86. He works out six days per week, including weight training and cardio. BP Capital employees call Pickens' workout routine the "keep Boone alive" plan.
On management not being aligned with shareholders
This clip is from an interview I did with Pickens, and it's just too good to not share. The best part is in the first two minutes:
If you don't have time to watch the whole video, it's from a story Pickens tells about Fred Hartley, then-CEO of UnoCal to board member (and family member who founded the company) William Doheny, who was suggesting they raise the dividend:
Fred said to him, "God-damn Bill! Why in the hell would we want to give a bunch of people we don't even know a lot of money?" And I think that was the attitude of a lot of CEOs [at the time].
As Pickens says, everyone else who could corroborate or declaim the story is dead, but Pickens' point is clear: Management needs to be aligned with shareholders, who are the real owners of the business. Pickens says that oil companies were rife with managements with limited personal investment in the companies that they ran during his "activist investor" days in the '70s and '80s, but he's happy to see that things are largely different today.
My mother was the only registered Republican in Hughes County, Oklahoma. She told me, "It's not because the Republicans are good -- they're just not as bad as the other people." That was when I was in fifth grade. You know, if you think about it, that's exactly where we are today.
Pickens has occasionally had political inclinations, having considered running for both Texas governor and the presidency in the late 1980s, but has never moved forward with a major campaign. He says he has "no regrets" about not making a serious run at political office, and I think he means it.
On parental relationships, whiskey, and geology
This one requires a little bit of an introduction. Pickens' father lived to be 93 and worked as a "landman," meaning he worked for oil and gas drillers as an intermediary, negotiating drilling rights with landowners. Pickens is a geologist by training, and it's geologists who determine and predict where oil and gas reserves will be found. Furthermore, his father was a bourbon drinker, while Pickens the younger prefers scotch.
My dad said to me -- he must have been 80 -- one day when we were having a drink together, "You know, son, there's three things I really don't like about you. You don't smoke cigars. You drink scotch, and I've always been suspicious of anybody who drinks scotch. Last, landmen can pick locations as well as geologists!
This story goes back to a time when Pickens actually employed his father as a landman. His father purchased the rights Pickens wanted, as well as several that Pickens did not. Pickens kept the parcel he wanted, and his father sold off the rights to the others. It turned out the parcel Pickens wanted produced no oil, while several of the other parcels produced.
Pickens father apparently never let him forget about it, either.
On having a plan
Pickens says his father told him this, about a year-and-a-half into his college career when he wasn't exactly on track to graduate in four years:
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."
What started out as a lesson to get Pickens' academics in order became the mantra that has guided him through more than 60 years of business and investing. Pickens says his focus on having a plan has been central to the immense success he's had, and the reason he's been able to accumulate such wealth.
I saved this one for last, because it's one that Pickens tells regularly, and the one that I'm sure he thinks means the most. Pickens has used effective planning for decades, and his massive wealth is proof that it can work.