T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens likes to say he grew up “where the pavement ends, the West begins, and the Rock Island crossed the Frisco.”
Open land spread out around the young Pickens, who was born in Holdenville, an Oklahoma speck in the grand sweep of the Great Plains. His father, Thomas Boone Pickens, was a landman, working in the oil business as an oil and mineral rights leaser (Petroleum Landman), and his mother, Grace Molonson Pickens, ran the Office of Price Administration for the three-county area surrounding Holdenville during World War II, rationing gasoline and other goods for those counties.

T. Boone Pickens’ native curiosity and his training as a geologist enable him to study a situation, analyze its possibilities, and then act upon that analysis.

The 1951 Oklahoma State University geology graduate has used the same thorough approach no matter if he was sizing up the potential of an oil or gas field, gauging a company’s true worth, or working a commodities contract. When still early in his career he found that the stewards of mainstream corporate America would often fall into a pattern of “Ready, Aim, Aim,” instead of taking prudent action, he felt compelled to jump into the fray to maximize shareholder values.

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.” After he left Mesa Petroleum in December 1996, Fortune magazine summarized what has become a concensus view of the Pickens legacy: “Boone's once revolutionary ideas [are] so completely taken for granted that they have become linchpins of the economy. Is there anybody anymore (except maybe in the labor movement) who doesn't accept the supremacy of the shareholder? Is there any CEO who doesn't understand that his primary job is to create wealth for his shareholders —and that to fail in that task will likely mean the loss of his own job?” While a lot of milk was spilled and even more left on the porch during Pickens long and winding career, even he has to admit his business acumen and radar has uncanny accuracy if sometime out of sync with the times. “The world is generally resistant to change, especially for those who are benefiting from the status quo,” Pickens wrote in his autobiography. “ But the world also is resilient, and I firmly believe in the free enterprise system and the energy generated by the entrepreneurial spirit.” Although he laughingly admits that friends have often quizzed him on why he is such a crusader, Pickens expresses great love for America’s free enterprise system, which, although flawed, provides such opportunities. “There isn't anything that the government must like better than for some guy who is willing to go out and put up his money to develop an idea,” he muses. “If the idea gels, jobs are created, taxes are paid, shareholders profit, and the economy prospers. If he loses, we're sorry about it, but the government doesn't step up and say, ‘Now, how much do you need for giving it a try, fella?’ That's why America is so far superior to the rest of the world’s economies.” Pickens championed many issues that later became part of the corporate mainstream: In the 1980s, he challenged Big Oil, and big American business in general, that it needed to drastically restructure to meet the times. A David versus Goliath bid for Gulf Oil by independent Mesa Petroleum and an investor group was the loudest shot of this campaign. Eventually, all of the Seven Sisters remade their families, benefiting their shareholders. Long before the logic that physical fitness is an important part of the health of a company became universally accepted, Pickens shared his lifelong commitment to fitness with employees at Mesa in a grand way, implementing a companywide program rooted in economic sense and corporate well-being that earned Mesa the title of “The Most Physically Fit Company in America” in 1985. Although he did not seek out the battle (it was brought to him), Pickens determined campaign to open up the Japanese markets to U.S. investors in the late 1980s and early 1990s forced a spotlight on the antiquated, closed structure of many foreign markets, and galvanized a rethinking of U.S. international investments. Convinced that natural gas is a viable alternative vehicular fuel that can help the United States lessen its dependence on volatile foreign sources of oil, Pickens barnstormed the country advocating the merits of natural gas, and put his money where his mouth was. He formed Pickens Fuel Corp. in 1997, later reincorporated as Clean Energy and taken public in May 2007 (the eighth company that Pickens has helped go public during his career). The company now owns and operates natural gas fueling stations from British Columbia to the Mexican border. Further, since a booming Texas population is demanding that the state find some far-reaching power and water demand solutions, in August 2007 a Pickens-led coalition of Texas Panhandle landowners filed documents with a state agency that details plan for the world's largest wind farm, projected for completion in late 2011. The project will add 4,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity to the power grid in Texas. Long a determined steward of his Texas Panhandle ranch land, Pickens implemented an exhaustive water system at his Mesa Vista Ranch in the Canadian River Valley in Texas and greatly reduced active cattle grazing, supporting a burgeoning quail habitat and creating a model for modern land caretaking. In the late 1990s, Pickens determined that municipal entities would eventually gain access to great quantities of water beneath his Panhandle ranch, so he devised a plan, since joined by hundred of other landowners in the area, to prudently draw and offer enough water for sale to meet the needs of 400,000 households a year in Texas. Although he is still waiting on a buyer, his Mesa Water has become the largest private holder of permitted groundwater rights in the United States. A number of T. Boone Pickens’ 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.

While Pickens was still with Mesa Petroleum, he became involved with natural gas fueling. He had a vision: to tap into natural gas as a vehicular fuel. His motivation was two-fold: one, to ensure a cleaner environment for future generations, and two, to lessen dependency on foreign oil. While chairman of the National Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition for almost three years, Pickens traveled the country advocating the merits of natural gas. When he left Mesa Petroleum and its management wanted to divest of the natural gas fueling concerns, he purchased them and in 1997 formed Pickens Fuel Corp. He touted natural gas as the best alternative vehicular fuel because it’s a domestic resource that reduces our foreign oil consumption, and enhances America’s energy security; clean (NGV vehicles emit up to 95 percent less pollution than gasoline or diesel vehicles); less expensive than petroleum and hydrogen; and safe (lighter-than-air compressed natural gas is nontoxic and disperses quickly, and has a higher ignition temperature than gasoline and diesel fuel, which reduces the chances of accidental ignition). Reincorporated as Clean Energy in 2001 and taken public in 2007, the company is the largest provider of vehicular natural gas (CNG and LNG) in North America with a broad customer base in the refuse, transit, shuttle, taxi, intrastate and interstate trucking, airport and municipal fleet markets. Tens of thousands of vehicles fuel at strategic locations in the United States and Canada. Customers include Los Angeles International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, SuperShuttle, Foothill Transit, Waste Management, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, SYSCO Foods, Ft. Worth Transportation Agency, Denver International Airport, Denver RTD, MTDB of San Diego and the US Navy.

Further, since a booming Texas population is demanding that the state find some far-reaching power and water demand solutions, in August 2007 a Pickens-led coalition of Texas Panhandle landowners filed documents with a state agency that details plan for the world's largest wind farm, projected for completion in late 2011. The project will add 4,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity to the power grid in Texas.
When Boone Pickens was 12, his father bought him a .22 rifle and taught him to shoot. His hometown, Holdenville, Oklahoma, had a natural beauty, rolling hills and placid streams where Pickens would hunt. The pockets of ugliness that early oil drilling pollution left behind there — scarred creeks and dead trees — had a deep impact on him at an early age. When as an adult he became a significant landowner, he felt a particular responsibility for its proper stewardship. His Mesa Vista Ranch, in the Canadian River Valley of the Texas Panhandle, is a model for wildlife resource management. The 68,000-acre ranch would be odd shaped to a cattleman, but then cattle don’t roam there. Noted Texas outdoor writer Ray Sasser has called Mesa Vista "a Wild West equivalent of a southern gentlemen’s hunting plantation.” Prior to Pickens’ first land purchase in 1971, the rolling hills, bluffs and creek beds there suffered from consistent overgrazing. The legendary entrepreneur immediately began a multi-step program to help the land recover, over time investing about $25 million in overall wildlife management strategies and facilities, installing substantial water sources, feed plots and native grass replanting, and power infrastructure. The four creeks and ten miles on it that fronts the Canadian River offers premium wildlife cover. Thirty-five miles of buried water lines with outlets feed small waterholes at 1,000-foot intervals, benefiting wildlife from turkey, antelope, mule deer and white-tailed deer to pheasant, quail, and ducks. More than 300 quail feeders are kept full seven months a year to guarantee the birds never go hungry. Pickens has supported an ongoing Oklahoma State biological study on the effect of heat and overgrazed habitat on young quail on the ranch. Records show consistent year-after-year quail production. The success with Mesa Vista spawned another business for Pickens, searching out other Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma ranches and developing them on the same principles. His team cleans up the land, clear off any cattle grazing there, and allow natural vegetation to grow out, which provides nesting habitats. While the ever-thinking Pickens feeds his passion at Mesa Vista, spare time spent there is hardly that. He has never relied on a master plan for wildlife improvements; rather Mesa Vista is a work in progress, and will remain so as long as its owner lives. He is constantly dreaming up improvements to the property, evidenced by the notebooks his ranch employees maintain at the ready to jot down the torrent of ideas that occur to Pickens as he drives through the ranch. Pickens also has stepped to the forefront of national water resource development issues with a proposal to market surplus and stranded groundwater in the Texas Panhandle to urban areas in the state facing severe water supply shortages, including possible river transport plans that would benefit wildlife and the overall ecosystem of Texas Rivers. In the process, his Mesa Water has become the largest private holder of permitted groundwater rights in the United States. Pickens and a group of more than 100 landowners formed Mesa Water in 1999 to develop groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer under Roberts County in the far northeastern Texas Panhandle. Today, Mesa Water is prepared to sell 320,000 acre-feet of aquifer water per year to regions that desperately need it. In April 2005, the Region C planning group, responsible for water planning for much of North Texas, added the Mesa Water project to its list of alternative supply sources. Mesa Water is also listed as a possible supply source for North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD), Dallas Water Utilities (DWU), Region L and San Antonio Water System (SAWS). The water is high quality, it is not needed for local irrigation because the land it rests under is unsuitable for farming, and studies support that supplies can support a prudent plan of drawing off water from the aquifer. Mesa Water can have a tremendous impact on the state’s water supply, diversity and availability. To put it in perspective, 320,000 acre-feet of water would satisfy the annual water needs of more than 1.5 million Texans — that means a lot in fast-growing regions like North Central Texas or San Antonio. New York investment bank J.P. Morgan has agreed to finance a 328-mile pipeline project to the Dallas-Fort Worth region provided Mesa could find the customer there. If not, perhaps a pipeline will run to San Antonio or El Paso. Pickens figures it’s only a matter of time before a deal reaches fruition....




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