Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens dead at 91

T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire tycoon who made his fortune in fossil fuels — only to spend his latter years advocating passionately for alternative energy — died on Wednesday. He was 91.

Pickens, who began his career in oil and gas, became a titan of his industry, and helped to pioneer shareholder activism in the 1980s. Yet his thinking eventually evolved in a way that led him to embrace wind, solar, and other forms of natural energy to chip away at the dominance of fossil fuels.

Pickens actually didn’t become a billionaire until after age 70. During a TV appearance, he was asked at what point he felt like he had made it.

To that, he responded: “When I realized I had 12 bird dogs.”

He later elaborated in a blog post: “OK, it was a little tongue in cheek. But I’ve always felt that to be wealthy is to have an abundance of something you really love. And for me that something would be bird dogs.”

Born on May 22, 1928 to Thomas Boone Pickens and Grace Molonson Pickens, the tycoon was considered a miracle baby. During the long and complicated labor, the doctor told Pickens’ father that he could either save the mother or the child — but not both.

Pickens’ father urged the doctor to try a Caesarean section using a one-and-a-half page description in a medical textbook. Pickens was the first baby successfully delivered by C-section in Holdenville, a small railroad town in eastern Oklahoma.

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The richest American families

28. The Gallo family

Net worth:$10.7 billion

Source of wealth: E & J Gallo Winery

The Gallo family fortune is derived from a few avenues. Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded the world's largest winemaker in Modesto, California. Their other brother, Joseph, assisted with the family business until he opened his first dairy and sold cheese as "Joseph Gallow Cheese." His children currently run Joseph Farms, while the descendants of Ernest and Julio run E & J Gallo Winery, which generates estimated annual revenues of $3.8 billion. The company sells more than wine these days, having added liquor to the list.

T27. The Rockefeller family

Net worth:$11 billion

Source of wealth: Standard Oil

John D. Rockefeller became America's first billionaire after founding Standard Oil in 1870, which eventually controlled a majority of the country's oil refining. He and his son, John Jr., donated more than $1 billion in philanthropic efforts. The family's fortune is split among 174 members.

T27. The Cathy family

Net worth:$11 billion

Source of wealth: Chick-fil-A

Samuel Truett Cathy founded fast-food chain Chick-fil-A in 1967. Since then, the family-owned business has remained in the hands of second- and third-generation family members. Truett's sons, Dan Cathy and Don "Bubba" Cathy, run the company as CEO and executive vice president, respectively — they each have a reported net worth of $5.5 billion, according to the Forbes 400.

T27. The Butt family

Net worth:$11 billion

Source of wealth: H.E. Butt

Florence Butt founded H-E-B grocery store in Texas in 1905, which her son Howard expanded throughout the state when he took over the company in the 1920s. His son, Charles, is the majority shareholder and currently runs the company, which has 400 stores in Texas and Mexico andgenerates $25 billion in annual sales. Charles' siblings and two nephews also have stakes in the business.

24. The Stryker family

Net worth:$11.1 billion

Source of wealth: Stryker Corp.

Homer Stryker founded medical-equipment company Stryker Corp. His grandchildren — siblings Pat, Jon, and Ronda — each inherited a stake in the company, which generated $12 billion in sales in 2017. Ronda is the only sibling to serve on the board. All three are philanthropistsand have donated at least $855 million collectively to various causes and foundations.

23. The Mellon family

Net worth:$11.5 billion

Source of wealth: Mellon Bank

The Mellon family fortune originated when Thomas Mellon invested in coal and real estate in the 1860s — he was so successful he used the investment money to foundMellon Bank. He left his fortune to his children to grow. Between his direct descendants and future generations, they did just that, investing in companies that later becameALOCOA and Gulf Oil (now Chevron) and owning companies in media and the railroad industry.

Matthew Mellon was the face of the family until his untimely death in April 2018.

22. The Marshall family

Net worth:$12 billion

Source of wealth: Investments

The Marshall family's wealth is diversified. J. Howard Marshall II traded his Great Northern Oil Company shares for an estimated 15% stake in the Koch Industries. He passed on the stock to his son, E. Pierce Marshall, which then went to his wife and children when he died. The family has spent millions of their fortune on lawyers for J. Howard II, who had a short-term marriage to Anna Nicole Smith.

21. The Brown family

Net worth:$12.3 billion

Source of wealth: Brown-Forman Corp.

The Brown family is behind Jack Daniel's, Woodford Reserve, and Old Forester, among other alcohol brands. An estimated 25 family members own more than half of Brown-Forman Corp., which began with pharmaceuticals salesman George Garvin Brown in 1870.

20. The Sackler family

Net worth:$13 billion

Source of wealth: Purdue Pharma

The Sackler brothers — Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond — founded Purdue Pharma in the 1950s. The business skyrocketed when it began selling OxyContin in 1995. By 2002, Purdue was generating $1.6 billion worth of the painkiller.

The company has spent hundreds of millions settling various lawsuits over mis-branding OxyContin and generates $3 billion in annual sales today. The Sackler family still completely owns the company and the fortune is shared among some 20 family members.

19. The Goldman family

Net worth: $13.2 billion

Source of wealth: Solil Management

The Goldman family's wealth comes from real estate — they own 400-plus properties in New York City, including a 17% stake in the World Trade Center developments. Sol Goldman began Solil Management when he began buying foreclosed properties at bargain prices in the 1950s.

Today, his daughter Jane Goldman, runs the company. She and her siblings own 25% of the company, with assets worth an estimated $12 billion. Sol's nephew Lloyd Goldman runs the family's real estate firm, BLDG Management, which has another 17% stake in the World Trade Center.

18. The Bass family

Net worth:$13.3 billion

Source of wealth: Oil

In 1959, the oil tycoon Sid Richardson left his nephews Robert, Sid, Lee, and Edward $2.8 million each. They then diversified the money. The four brothers received $5.6 billion in stock after selling their oil company to ExxonMobil in 2017. They could reap payouts worth up to $1 billion.

17. The Busch family

Net worth:$13.4 billion

Source of wealth: Anheuser-Busch

The Busch family fortune's roots in beer date back to 1876 when Adolphus Busch created what is now known today asBudweiser. While the company passed through each family generation, an estimated 25% of the business was sold between 1989 and 2008, and it was fully bought out for $52 billion in 2008.

Part of the family launched back into the business with William K Busch Brewing. Roughly 30 members of the family split the fortune.

16. The Hunt family

Net worth:$13.7 billion

Source of wealth: Hunt Oil Company

H.L. Hunt laid the foundation for his family's fortune withHunt Oil Company. His many heirs (he had 14 children) command several fortunes, from Hunt Oil and Petro-Hunt to Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. His children spend their billions on real estate, like the 6-million-square-foot underground business park SubTropolis, and sports teams — they own the Kansas City Chiefs and have a minority stake in the Chicago Bulls.

15. The du Pont family

Net worth:$14.3 billion

Source of wealth: DuPont

The du Pont fortune is one of the oldest and most widely shared fortunes on this list. Chemicals giant DuPont was founded in 1802 as a gunpowder manufacturer. Over time, it evolved into producing everything from dynamite to plastics and invented nylon and Teflon. About 3,500 family members share the chunk of substantial shares in the company, although none actually run the company.

14. The Ziff family

Net worth:$14.4 billion

Source of wealth: Ziff Davis Inc.

William Ziff Jr. sold the magazine publisher his father created, Ziff Davis Inc., which published PC Magazine, for $1.4 billion in 1994. His sons, Daniel, Robert, and Dirk, grow their inheritance through Ziff Brothers Investments and reportedly invest some of their billions with managers who use to work at their hedge funds.

The brothers also own several homes in Aspen and have put their money toward philanthropic efforts.

13. The Dorrance family

Net worth:$17.1 billion

Source of wealth: Campbell's Soup

An estimated 11 members of the Dorrance family own more than 50% of Campbell's Soup, which John T. Dorrance invented the formula for in the late 1800s. Today, the company owns more than soup, including brands V8 and Pepperidge Farm, generating more than $8 billion in annual revenue. Two of Dorrance's billionaire grandchildren and one great grandchild are board members.

12. The SC Johnson family

Net worth:$18.2 billion

Source of wealth: SC Johnson

The Johnson family is behind SC Johnson, which produces cleaning products such as Pledge, Glade, and Windex. The company was founded by its namesake in 1882 and was eventually taken over by son Herbert Fisk Johnson. Herbert died in 1928 without a will, and the family reportedly feuded over the inheritance until it was eventually divided between his two children, Herbert Fisk Jr. and Henrietta Johnson Louis. Fifth-generation Herbert Fisk Johnson III acts as the current CEO and chairman of the company.

11. The Newhouse family

Net worth:$18.5 billion

Source of wealth: Advance Publications

The Newhouse family's wealth derives from the publishing giant Sam Newhouse created. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast Publications and more than 25 newspapers in America, as well as Reddit and a stake in Discovery Communications. In April 2016, Sam's sons sold cable TV company Bright House Networks for $11.4 billion in cash and stock.

10. The Lauder family

Net worth:$22.4 billion

Source of wealth: Estée Lauder

In 1947, Estée Lauder received her first major order for $800 of skincare products from Saks Fifth Avenue. Today,the company, which includes 30 brands of makeup including MAC and Clinique, generates $12 billion in revenue from the sale of cosmetics and fragrances.

The Lauders are active philanthropists, and sons Leonard and Ronald are major art collectors. Leonard donated $1 billion worth of paintings and sculptures to the Met. The family also owns a lot of real estate.

9. The Hearst family

Net worth:$24.5 billion

Source of wealth: Hearst Corporation

About 67 family members share the fortune that William Randolph Hearst created when he took over the San Francisco Examiner in the late 1800s. Soon after, Hearstacquired other newspapers and forayed into radio and TV, creating the foundation for today's media giant, Hearst Corporation, which owns several newspapers, nearly 300 magazines, TV and radio stations, and stakes in cable TV channels.

Hearst used to own what is now one of the most expensive homes in America.

8. The Duncan family

Net worth:$24.8 billion

Source of wealth: Enterprise Products Partners

Dan L. Duncan founded gas and oil company Enterprise Products Partners in 1968 with just $10,000. After he died in 2010, the company remained under family control and his four children inherited a $10 billion estate. The family fortune has since more than doubled.

7. The Pritzker family

Net worth: $26.5 billion

Source of wealth: Hyatt Hotels

A.N. Pritzker and sons Jay, Donald, and Robert created the family's wealth by founding the Hyatt Hotel chain and investing in holdings, such as Marmon Group. Today, the fortune is split among 13 family members, 11 of whom are billionaires. They reportedly spent much of the 2000's arguing over trusts, ultimately dividing up the fortune at the end.

Members of the Pritzker family have also been involved in politics. Penny Pritzker, Donald's daughter, is the former US Secretary of Commerce. Her brother, J.B. Pritzker was the national co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and the Democratic candidate in the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial election.

6. The Cox family

Net worth:$37.2 billion

Source of wealth: Cox Enterprises

Cox Enterprises has touched a number of industries — cable and broadband (Cox Communications), newspapers and radio stations (Cox Media Group), and automotive. It generates about $20 billion in revenue.

Founder James Cox's five grandchildren share the family fortune.

5. The (Edward) Johnson family

Net worth:$38.7 billion

Source of wealth: Fidelity

Edward C. Johnson founded the world's second-largest mutual fund company, Fidelity, in 1946, which has been run at the hands of three Johnson generations since. It's currently helmed by his granddaughter, Abigail Johnson. The family owns 49% of the company, which is shared among four members.

4. The Cargill-MacMillan family

Net worth:$38.8 billion

Source of wealth: Cargill Inc.

William W. Cargill founded agribusiness giant Cargill Inc.in 1865. Today, 23 members of the Cargill-MacMillan familyown 88% of the company, which generates $108 billion in annual revenues. Of this clan, 14 are billionaires. The family reportedly keeps 80% of Cargill Inc.'s net income inside the company for reinvestment annually.

3. The Mars family

Net worth:$72 billion

Source of wealth: Mars Inc.

Jacqueline and John Mars inherited a stake in the candy empire Mars Inc., which invented M&Ms, Milky Way, and Mars Bars, when their father passed away in 1999. Jacquelyn's son, Stephen Badger, is the current chairman of Mars Inc., which brings in more than $35 billion in annual revenue.

The siblings run the Mars Foundation, which donates to educational, environmental, cultural, and health-related causes.

2. The Koch family

Net worth:$107 billion

Source of wealth: Koch Industries

Brothers Charles and David Koch expanded their father's oil refinery firm into conglomerate Koch Industries after their other brothers, Frederick and William, left the business following a failed takeover. Today, Koch Industries generates roughly $100 billion in revenue annually.

David Koch, who stepped down from a leadership position in the company in 2018, has pledged to contribute more than $1.2 billion to cancer research, hospitals, education, and cultural institutions through the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation. Both brothers reportedly secretly funded some of the biggest summer movies of 2017, including "Wonder Woman."

1. The Walton family

Net worth:$169.7 billion

Source of wealth: Walmart

Sam and Bud Walton founded Walmart in 1962. Following its success, they founded Sam's Club in 1983. Today, Walmart reports sales of $500 billion, making it the largest retailer by revenue in the world.

The Walton family fortune is dispersed among seven family members, including co-founder Sam Walton's three children, Rob, Jim, and Alice, who is the richest woman in the world with a $43.7 billion fortune.


An entrepreneur from an early age

Raised during the Great Depression, Pickens was an entrepreneur from a young age, mowing lawns and taking up a paper route at the age of 12 that expanded from the smallest in his hometown to the largest.

“It was my first experience in the takeover field: expansion by acquisition,” he wrote in his book, “The First Billion Is The Hardest.”

In high school, the Pickens family relocated to Amarillo, Texas. After graduation, Pickens went to Texas A&M on a basketball scholarship. After losing his scholarship, he transferred to Oklahoma A&M, now known as Oklahoma State University. He graduated in 1951 with a degree in geology, and never stopped being a die-hard booster for OSU sports.

U.S. Senator Bob Dole (R) is presented a bullwhip April 12 by T. Boone Pickins (L), at a fund raising stop in Dallas two days into Dole's campaign for the U.S. presidency. Pickens said the whip was to help Dole get things done in Washington D.C - Reuters Images

Pickens began his career at Phillips Petroleum as a geologist. After more than three years, he struck out on his own as an independent geologist in the Texas Panhandle.

Two years later, in 1957, he would build an oil and gas company that eventually became Mesa Petroleum — a company he took public and led for four decades. After leaving Mesa in 1996, he started a commodities hedge fund, BP Capital, at age 68.

Pickens transitioned BP Capital into a family-office in December 2017. Shortly after, his legacy in the energy space continued as the NYSE Pickens Oil Response ETF (BOON), though it was not managed by him. The BOON ETF recently moved away from fossil fuels into renewables.

Pickens was among the big activist shareholders of the 1980s. Among his famous deals and attempted deals were Cities Service, Gulf Oil, and Unocal.

In 1986, he formed the United Shareholders Association, a lobbying organization for shareholders. During a speech at the Economic Club of Detroit in 1988, he highlighted a "transformation of Corporate America" that "focused on results, not size" and one that would "create value, not empires."

"It seemed like no matter how poorly management performed, there was nothing shareholders could do about that," he said, noting that it was "slowly starting to change" and "large shareholders are making a difference" by forcing restructuring, including takeovers, LBOs, and selling off unproductive units.

He was also politically active, having donated to Republican candidates over the years. Naturally, energy policy was his biggest focus.

In 2008, he authored The Pickens Plan, a self-funded $100 million grassroots campaign that outlined steps for the U.S. to reduce the reliance on foreign oil by using natural gas and other American resources. The crux of the plan is to get heavy-duty trucks to switch to natural gas, which is cheaper and emits less carbon dioxide than oil. Pickens maintained that the United States’ reliance on foreign energy was the "greatest transfer of wealth in human history."

‘Not a big fan of inherited wealth’

T. Boone Pickens, the founder of Texas based Mesa Petroleum, waves after ringing the opening bell at the New York Mercantile Exchange on May 2, 2003. Pickens was in New York attending a symposium before visiting the exchange. NYME Vice Chairman Michael Steinhause (L) stood with Pickens. REUTERS/Peter Morgan

In his philanthropic endeavors, Pickens remained a devoted fan of the Oklahoma State Cowboys and was a huge backer of the school’s athletics and academics having given $652 million over the years.

In 2009, Oklahoma State named and dedicated a newly renovated football stadium after Pickens. In an August 2019 letter to OSU fans, he outlined his approach to charity.

“I have a unique approach to giving. While many others of my status endow foundations that spin out millions of dollars over the course of generations, I want to see the good that’s done with my money today, while I’m alive, and not wonder what is done with it long after I’m gone,” the billionaire said.

This year, he was unable to make the season’s opening game. One of his last wishes was to win another Big 12 football championship.

Pickens also had a penchant for clever one-liners known as “Booneisms.” These were phrases, such as: "Don't rush the monkey and you'll see a better show" and “a plan without action is not a plan. It’s a speech.”

He even shared his wit on Twitter. In 2012, Canadian rapper Drake Tweeted, “The First Million Is The Hardest.” To that, Pickens replied, “The first billion is a helluva lot harder.”


One of Pickens’ loves was spending time at his 100-square-mile Mesa Vista Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. The property is currently listed for sale for $250 million.

A long-time fixture on the Forbes’ billionaires list, he fell off the ranking in 2014. However, he gave away more than $1 billion during his lifetime.

He also signed The Giving Pledge, an initiative started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, where the wealthiest agree to give more than half of their net-worth away to philanthropic causes when they die.

“I’ve long stated that I enjoy making money, and I enjoy giving it away. I like making money more, but giving it away is a close second,” Pickens wrote at the time of signing the promise, before adding, “[I] look forward to the day I hit the $1 billion mark. I’m not a big fan of inherited wealth. It generally does more harm than good.”

Pickens is survived by five children, 11 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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