T. Boone Pickens Grows Up Around Oil

Thomas Boone Pickens Jr. was born on May 22, 1928, in the town of Holdenville, Oklahoma. The circumstances of his birth are a little unusual, just like the man himself. According to all the stories told, during Pickens birth, the doctor informed his father that he could only save the mother or the baby. Pickens father would not accept this and sent the doctor a two page letter on how to perform a Caesarean birthing. As a result of this text, the doctor decided to perform the first Caesarean section in the history of the Holderville Hospital, which saved both mother and baby.

Pickens grew up during the Depression and with the help of the women of the family, learned a lot about the privilege of working and being frugal. At the age of 12, Pickens began delivering the newspaper, but would not stop there. He began buying up adjacent routes to expand his newspaper route. According to Pickens, “The paper route was my first introduction to acquisition – a talent that I would perfect later in life.”

Pickens learned to take risks from his father, but his grandmother, aunt and mother taught him the value of work and saving. One Saturday, which he always spent getting a haircut and catching a movie at the local theater, Pickens ran by his grandmother's house. Both his grandmother and aunt lived across the street from his boyhood home. As he slid to a stop to speak with his grandmother, she would ask him where he was going and if he had enough money. Pickens would tell her where he was going and that he had 50 cents, 25 cents for the haircut, 10 cents for the movie and 5 cents for popcorn. He recalls that his grandmother always wanted to see the leftover 10 cents when he got home stating, “that a fool and his money were soon parted.”

When Pickens was a teenager, his family moved to Amarillo, Texas, where he graduated high school and went to Texas A&M for one year, before transferring to Oklahoma A&M to finish his degree in geology in 1951. Oklahoma A&M would later become Oklahoma State University. Pickens would immediately get a job in the oil industry, working for Phillips Petroleum as a geologist. There he would learn the oil business, but more importantly, learn that working for yourself in the oil industry was a gamble, but if you hit it big, you hit it really big. It took him three years before he decided to go it alone and start his own company.

Pickens borrowed $2,500 and with two other investors started his own exploration company called Petroleum Exploration Incorporated, which concentrated on the exploration of domestic oil and gas. This small company would grow into the largest independent oil company in the United States, if not the world.

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