"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!