The First Billion Is the Hardest

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-09-08
  • Publisher: Crown Business
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The man whose corporate takeover attempts and shareholder activism reshaped the oil industry in the 1980s recounts his most awe-inspiring comeback, which saw him net over a billion dollars in his seventh decade.

Author Biography

T. BOONE PICKENS is, in his ninth decade, the very active strategic and managerial force behind BP Capital, one of America’s most successful energy-investment companies. Currently, Pickens ranks among the world’s richest men. He lives with his wife, Madeleine, in the Dallas–Fort Worth area and at his ranch in the Texas Panhandle.

From the Hardcover edition.



Blood, Guts, and Feathers

Booneism #1: Don't rush the monkey, and you'll see a better show.

Risk has always been a part of my life. I'm not sure whether I'm drawn to it or it's drawn to me, but at every point in my eighty years, I've been faced with a challenge, and in just about every instance I've taken it. Even my birth was a do-or-die proposition.

My mother went into labor on May 21, 1928. It was a long ordeal, and things weren't going well. The doctor, George Wallace, took my father, Tom, into a small room and closed the door. He had a grave look on his face, and my father immediately spotted a large book on a table. He assumed it was a Bible.

"Your wife has been in labor a long time, and she can't deliver. I'm worried about her. You can save your wife or your baby, but not both," Dr. Wallace said.

My father wasn't an either-or sort of guy. He was a natural-born risk taker and the son of a Methodist preacher. And so when Dr. Wallace, who happened to be a surgeon, told him that it was either my mother, Grace, or me, my father refused to choose. He pleaded with the doctor to try the first Caesarean section in that hospital's history.

"Well, Tom, I've heard about a C-section, but I've never done one," the doctor said. He pointed to the book on the table. "All I've got is a page and a half and one picture in that medical book to go by."

"We're gonna pray, and you're gonna deliver the baby," my father told him.

A short time later, Dr. Wallace came out of the operating room with a broad smile on his face. He had just performed his first Caesarean. The procedure wouldn't be repeated at that hospital for more than twenty-five years. Dr. Wallace was a surgeon-no general practitioner would have ever performed a C-section-and he'd lived in that small town in Oklahoma for just two years. The odds of him being the man that delivered me were slim at best. I've always thought I was the luckiest man alive, and right from the start I proved it.

"You've got a little boy," Dr. Wallace told my father. "And your wife is doing fine."

the sign read: welcome to holdenville. where the pavement ends, the west begins, and the rock island crosses the frisco. And that, sports fans, was Holdenville, a railroad town in eastern Oklahoma, a speck in the grand sweep of the Great Plains, where the open land was vast, rolling, and endless.

My father was in the oil business. Outgoing, generous, a great

storyteller, and a gifted poker player, he arrived in Holdenville at age twenty-five. He was a lawyer but soon realized that law was nowhere near as exciting as oil. So he became an independent land man, convincing landowners to lease him their mineral rights, which he in turn sold to oil companies. I was an only child, but I was always surrounded by family who lived next door: my grandmother Nellie Molonson; my widowed aunt, Ethel Reed; and my cousin Billy Bob, who was like an older brother to me. My parents were hardworking, thrifty, honest, and self-sufficient. They came from an era when a job was viewed as a privilege, not a right. I grew up during the Great Depression, but our family always had food on the table. My grandmother had a large vegetable garden, and each night she served fresh or canned vegetables. Some nights we had meat to go with the vegetables, and some nights we didn't, but we were never hungry.

My mother, Grace-the disciplinarian in our family-instilled important lessons in me early on, which prepared me for the challenges ahead. During the war, she ran our area's Office of Price Administration, which rationed gasoline and other goods. She had a great sense of integrity; if she said she would do something, you could consider it done. My grandmother Nellie was so disciplined that most nights she would have only one cup of tea and a slice of dry whole wheat toast for supper.

Excerpted from The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future by T. Boone Pickens
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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