Oil tycoon and corporate raider

Born: May 22, 1928;

Died: September 11, 2019

T Boone Pickens, who has died in Dallas, Texas, at the age of 91, became well known in Scottish business circles when his company, Mesa Petroleum, joined the exploration for oil in the North Sea. Pickens centred his development in the Moray Firth, 24 km off shore - the first field to be developed off the south-east Caithness coast. France’s Total Oil Marine had developed the field but Pickens recognised its potential and bought the concession.

The potentially valuable Beatrice field, with four massive steel platforms, was named after Perkins’ wife. It began operations in 1980 and at its height was producing about 8,000 tonnes of oil a day.The field was finally decommissioned in 2017 and had been transferred to Talisman in 1997. It was replaced by an 84-turbine Beatrice Offshore Windfarm.

Thomas Boone Pickens Jr. was a hugely successful American businessman, oil magnate and financier who, aged 75, founded the hedge fund BP Capital Management. In the 1980s he was a prominent investor on Wall Street and almost single-handedly rewrote the rulebook for corporate raiders. The swash-buckling and abrasive style that he adopted in take-overs made him feared by his competitors. He was remorseless in his pursuit of a company and went for the jugular – corporate and personal. Yet he often backed the small shareholder and championed their rights in disputes with powerful executives and multinationals.

He was born into a family connected with the oil industry. After reading geology at Oklahoma State University he joined, in 1951, Phillips Petroleum for about three years as the company’s geologist. But Pickens needed a challenge: he borrowed some money and invested in the gas company Amarillo. The company was made public in 1964. It was his first jackpot.

He set up his own independent oil company, Mesa Petroleum, which by the 1980s was one of America’s largest independent exploration companies. Even the violent swings in the oil price of the 1970s did not deter his ambition: with typical bravado he viewed the turmoil as a chance to exploit other companies’ vulnerabilities.

This was the case when he made a classic bid for Gulf Oil in 1993. He had bought 15 per cent of Gulf’s shares and bought another 15 per cent, encouraging Gulf to take action. Within months, Gulf was taken over for $13bn by Chevron, the biggest deal then undertaken. Pickens made $760m.

Eager to shake up a US oil industry he deemed over-complacent, he made bids for Phillips Petroleum and Unocal Corp. He did not win, but certainly rationalised the industry. In 2008 Forbes estimated his fortune at more than $3bn.

With his shrewd understanding of the industry and experience of its wild fluctuations he dealt in the energy futures markets with huge success. The media dubbed him the 'oracle of oil'. He gave away much of his fortune to academic institutions and health bodies. On his website he declared: “I firmly believe one of the reasons I was put on this Earth was to make money and be generous with it”. He was a strong supporter of the Republican Party and backed George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

His 2008 autobiography, The First Billion is the Hardest, is filled with delightful ‘Booneisms’. Perhaps the most appropriate is: “When you’re hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits.” He was married five times and had five children.