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How I Made It

Lunch with Boone Pickens

By September 1999Comments

Every day, I order in lunch for my seven employees, and we all eat together. I’ve always done that. When there were only three of us, I used to have a hot plate in the coffee room and a good supply of chicken noodle soup. We’d heat it up at lunch and serve it with crackers. Today we do a little better than that: There’s a California Pizza Kitchen down the street, and some days we get sandwiches from Stern’s Delicatessen. Some people say, “Oh, Pickens is so bighearted—he buys lunch for his office.” But we get a lot of work done at that table, and often we’re done in less than an hour.

Another perk we offer is good pay: I feel like we’ve always been on top of the pay scale. When I was at Mesa, we gave stock options as far down in the organization as anybody—right down to the secretaries. I believe that if the company makes money, so should the employees. At the same time, we demand a high level of performance. You’re not going to recover any fumbles or intercept any passes by sitting on the bench. You have to be in the game, hitting hard. In that respect I think you lead by example. I work hard, and I expect other people to work hard. I don’t expect anyone to do anything I don’t. And if they do it better, I’ll do something else.

Not that I plan on doing something else. At Christmas a couple of years ago, when things were not going well, one of my daughters said to me, “Have you thought about changing careers?” Well, it’s a little late. I’m 71, and I’ve been in the oil and gas business for almost fifty years. Reflecting back on that time, I’d say there have been maybe five years that were outstanding, lots that were pretty good, and some that were not good at all. The point is, you have to be realistic about the future—you’re going to have this and misses. But you also have to be optimistic. I’m a geologist by training, and geologists have to be optimists. There are too many dry holes. You can’t give up because you drill one.

Boone Pickens was born and raised in Holdenville, Oklahoma. A 1951 graduate of Oklahoma State University, he worked for Phillips Petroleum and as an independent geologist before founding Mesa Petroleum, which he built into one of the largest independent oil and gas producers in the United States. In 1996 he retired as the company’s chairman and CEO, and the following year he started three Dallas-based companies that he still runs today: BP Capital, and energy trading partnership; Pickens Fuel, which owns and operates natural-gas fueling stations in Southern California; and a newly reconstructed Mesa Petroleum.

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