- T. Boone Pickens was an energy magnate, hedge fund investor, and philanthropist. He died at age 91 on Wednesday.
- Pickens based his career on a set of ethics and lessons he often shared with the public, often accompanied by off-beat aphorisms.
- He believed that planning was crucial to success, while at the same time valuing the willingness to make decisions, and that the level of quality communication determined a team’s effectiveness.
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T. Boone Pickens, “The Oracle of Oil,” died at age 91 on Wednesday.
Pickens founded the oil and gas company that he’d later rename Mesa Petroleum in 1956, and he became a shareholder-rights activist in the 1980s as the founding leader of the United Shareholders Association. Then, in 1996 at the age of 68, Pickens sold Mesa and started a hedge fund called BP Capital Management. His role as an investor led to his becoming a billionaire in his 70s, and he spent much of his later years in philanthropy, giving away nearly $2 billion, including half a billion to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University.
Through it all, he followed a code of ethics that was often accompanied by aphorisms his colleagues coined “Booneisms.” We’ve collected some of the lessons he passed on most frequently.
Following a plan is necessary for success
In 2017, Pickens wrote an open letter to graduating college seniors in which he passed on what he described as the best lesson his father ever gave him.
At Pickens’ induction ceremony to the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, his dad told him, “A fool with a plan can beat a genius without one.” His parents felt that he was not taking his studies or future career seriously and said they were afraid he was being “a fool with no plan.” Pickens took the advice to heart and made a plan to graduate with a geology degree, which was his entry into the oil-and-gas business.
But don’t overplan
Pickens believed that the most important quality in a leader was the willingness to make decisions. “Don’t fall victim to what I call the ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome,” he’d often say. “You must be willing to fire.”
And don’t get tripped up by distractions
One of Pickens’ Booneisms was, “When you are hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits.”
Work ethic determines success
In 2015, Pickens told the reporter Julia La Roche, when she worked for Business Insider, that there was no secret to success. “It’s very simple – good work ethic,” he said. “If you want to be a lawyer, geologist, or a nurse, work ethic comes first. Everything else falls into place.”
Management is nothing without leadership
Pickens wrote in his 2000 book, “The Luckiest Guy in the World,” that, “A management style is an amalgamation of the best of other people you have known and respected, and eventually you develop your own style.” He noted, however, that he personally didn’t focus on crafting that style so much as he did the way he led his team. “I never consciously manage anybody,” he wrote. “I try to lead people.”
The root of all problems is poor communication
“I’ve always believed you can trace every problem to a lack of communication or lack of clarity in communication,” Pickens wrote in a LinkedIn post in 2017. He considered a knack for clarity to be his “core asset.”
It’s never too late to start over
As mentioned, Pickens began a new chapter in his life when he was 68 years old. He’s said he was motivated at the time by an imagined headline, “The Old Man Makes a Comeback.” The new level of success he enjoyed later in life taught him that age wasn’t as important as it typically was made to be. That applied to people just starting out, as well.
Let optimism drive you
Boone contemplated his mortality in a 2017 blog post after falling while recovering from a series of strokes. He wrote that during his contemplation of life, he refused to be morbid.
“Truth is, when you’re in the oil business like I’ve been all my life, you drill your fair share of dry holes, but you never lose your optimism,” he wrote. “There’s a story I tell about the geologist who fell off a 10-story building. When he blew past the fifth floor he thought to himself, ‘So far so good.'”