T. Boone Pickens at 85: Energy mogul talks about his life, legacy and why he can’t retire [Tulsa World, Okla.]
|By Ziva Branstetter, Tulsa World, Okla.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"I really honestly need to make some money right now. You get into big gifts, I mean, I've got to make some more money," he says, pausing on each word for emphasis.
A computer screen with red and blue charts sits behind his desk, tracking the performance of his energy commodities fund,
One of the country's richest men, the
Pickens says he has donated almost as much as he's now worth, including
He says he plans on giving away more money to nonprofit causes he supports, including OSU, medical research and groups that help veterans.
To do that he needs to make more, he told the
"I will go out of here in a box, is the way that I will retire," he says, leaning back in an armchair in front of his desk. "Because I like to work. I really do enjoy it, and I like to make money and I like to give it away."
Pickens, who turns 85 Wednesday, is seemingly undeterred by recent events that might discourage others at any age.
His idea to benefit his beloved alma matter by insuring the lives of 27 OSU alumni turned into a two-state legal battle, costing Pickens an estimated
The family was struck by tragedy
The death came shortly before Pickens learned about the blog of his 58-year-old son, Michael. The blog postings led Pickens to sue his son in
In court filings, Pickens strongly denies his son's allegations of abusive behavior and asks a judge to prevent "further public disclosure of private facts."
Pickens and his fourth wife, Madeleine, are also divorcing after seven years.
Repeating a lifelong theme, the octogenarian remains confident he will rise above his recent setbacks. He took his
Pickens is still betting big on the future of natural gas, particularly to fuel 18-wheelers, as a way to break the country's dependence on foreign oil.
"I am an optimistic guy, and if I get knocked on my ass I think I'm going to come back. That's happened a few times, and there has always been a recovery," Pickens says.
'Gotta pick it up'
Those who know him say Pickens finds redemption in hard work.
"It's just something in Boone that he will always succeed," she says.
When he doesn't travel, Pickens works out most days with a trainer who arrives at his house at
Pickens notes he has been sick and traveling more than usual.
"That means I gotta pick it up is what it means," he says with a shrug.
His Gulfstream jet flies him to his sprawling 68,000-acre ranch on weekends. The Mesa Vista spread in the Texas Panhandle is dotted with 20 miles of lakes that Pickens created by drilling into the water table to provide water for wildlife habitat.
Cascading waterfalls surround a massive stone guest lodge and a smaller "lake house" on the property. The grounds include a golf course, chapel and an air strip for his jet.
Pickens' pint-sized papillon, Murdock II, accompanies him each day to the office and flies to the ranch.
Forty hunting dogs are available to accompany hunting parties gunning for quail roaming Pickens' ranch. Pickens can no longer hunt quail, due to macular degeneration, which causes him to see double. He says he isn't a "shopper" and has some frugal habits from his youth. He grew up in a 1,173-square-foot white wood-frame home his grandfather built in
He says he hasn't bought a new suit since 2008 and writes the purchase dates inside each jacket so he knows when to buy new ones. Pickens rarely travels for pleasure.
Known for his impatience, Pickens once quit a good job as a geologist at
He amassed a fortune building Mesa Petroleum, which he bills as one of the world's largest independent oil companies. He lost control of the company in 1996 and left, a point at which he often says his "dauber was down."
Pickens also struggled then with depression and a bitter divorce.
He started over at 68, gathering investors in a commodity and equity fund.
"I'm still a wealthy person, but I got really chopped down" in 2008 and 2009, he says bluntly. "But I'd like to come back from that, and I feel like that's a real challenge for me right now."
Those who know him in the energy business say his knowledge of the field is matched by few.
"I think of him as a great geologist. That's what made him such a great trader; he understood the economics," Ward said. "He really has been one of the pioneers to talk about natural gas before anyone else did."
In the sunset of his life, Pickens says he wants to make his mark on the world and leave it a better place.
"I really do want people to know I was here and that I did influence some things and I did contribute. And I think I've done a good job of that. ... My gifts are now approaching my net worth. I am proud of that."
He's not planning on making money just to pass it all to his five adult children, Pickens says.
"I raised my family I would say modest. ... If they were going to get rich, they were going to get rich on their own."
'A different place'
OSU Athletic Director
"I wrote Boone a letter and said, 'I'm a big believer in you and I think you are going to do great things.' "
Pickens eventually gave about
"He's the most generous man I've ever met," Holder says. "He's a sucker for a sad story, and he's out to help as many people as he can. ... He's everything that made this a great country."
"We've attracted over 80,000 new donors to our campaign," Hargis said. "We've created thousands of scholarships, about 130 endowed chairs and professorships. ... It's just a different place, and it's a different place because of
Hargis and Holder reject the notion that Pickens' gifts bought him the right to hire and fire coaches or make other key decisions. His advice is sometimes sought, and it's welcomed when he has time to give it, they say.
"Unfortunately he's not that involved," Holder said. "What a resource. There's not one question I could ask him about personnel that he probably couldn't give me an answer from experience."
Court records filed in lawsuits over the Gift of a Lifetime paint a different picture, at least in that instance. Lawyers for the life insurance company produced emails in which Holder said he was under pressure to finalize the deal by Pickens or "I will be in a cave with
Pickens is among the billionaires who have taken the Giving Pledge. The challenge by
The plainspoken grandson of a Methodist preacher from
"I know that (if) I need something right now, I can call Boone. That's just the kind of guy he is," she says.
Treadwell added that Pickens always stops by for some of her chicken salad after visiting the cemetery where his mother, grandmother and other family members are buried.
"He's a faithful friend. ... He's never forgotten where he got his start," Treadwell said.
Pickens has fond memories of growing up in
He would play basketball at a corner lot before the family gathered for dinner on his grandmother's screened-in porch. He had a paper route, throwing the
"My mother and dad both had jobs. So what could we complain about? ... I always had a pair of shoes and never missed a meal."
The family moved to
The Aggies didn't renew Pickens'
"In their (
The magazine article hangs on a wall in his company offices, along with a famed 1985
Editorial cartoons from publications across the country also hang in Pickens' offices. Some -- from his days trying to acquire Phillips and other oil companies -- paint him as a greedy manipulator.
His plans to acquire the companies failed, but he profited anyway, critics note. To some, he remains a polarizing figure.
Pickens says people misunderstood his intentions to get shareholders the money they were due. Now he hopes people mostly think of him as "a patriotic old man with a good idea."
Pickens laughs when talking about a reporter who asked him recently why he doesn't "make room for somebody else."
"Well, I see the feed trough as infinite in length," he says. "Everybody can get to the feed trough. If you want to get up there, well get up there and go to work. ... But I don't need to get out of the way of anybody."
Breakdown of Pickens' OSU gifts
Other charitable gifts by Pickens include:
Education: Bachelor's degree in science -- geology,
First job: Delivering newspapers in
Current position: Founder and CEO of
Companies founded: List includes Mesa Petroleum,
Magazine covers: 35, including
Books: Three, including his latest: "The First Billion is the Hardest."
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