Sunday, September 14, 2008

The First Billion Is The Hardest-- T. Boone Pickens-- Review

The First Billion Is the Hardest On a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future by T. Boone Pickens is a combination of biography, energy business management, and platform for energy independence in the United States. Somehow, it all ties together very well.

T. Boone Pickens comes across in a folksy direct manner. He includes Booneisms in his book. Booneism #8 is I have always believed that it's important to show a new look periodically. Predictability can lead to failure.

The Frog and the Scorpion is one of the stories he tells in the book as well as many crass jokes and some rather crude, but colorful commentary.

His childhood is described as that of a normal American boy mixed with lessons in entrepreneurship from his grandmother. He had a paper route and mowed lawns for money. At the age of 11, he even pumped gas.

Combined with this is a strong drive for sports. He played basketball and was driven to win. Later in life this translated into his winning business practices and his huge donations for a sports complex at Ohio State University.

Although, it is not my style I can recognize the classic republican sportsman who loves Reagan in his writings. Luckily, he doesn't go too deeply into personal beliefs about race, religion, and social issues, he stays focused on business and energy. He does say he liked Wilt Chamberlain

His whole life seems to say energy entrepreneurship. His college degree was in geology a good precursor for the oil business.

He gives lots of advice. Make big deals, they are as easy to make as little deals, and they often have added benefits to them. He shows his disdain for bureaucracy and old school management.

He does this by describing how he used shareholder rights to help takeover poorly run companies. It shows an interesting combination of ruthlessness and compassion. Usually when he took over companies the stock prices went up. He was bent on winning for the underdog. He envisions himself as the underdog reaching up to face the giant.

About halfway through the book, the story changes. He burns himself out gets divorced, nearly loses everything. He even describes how he loses his dog. We get a very different person than the man who ran Mesa energy.

He reopens a new business which seems much more focused on teamwork BP Capital Energy Equity Fund, a hedge fund which can both sell short and long in both stocks and commodities.

There is a section of maxims on how to run a business. These read something like a story out of Aesop's Fables in a way: win fairly, lead, it's all about team, concentrate on goals not growing the company, and let people succeed are some of the exhortations.

It is towards the end that we get his opinion on America's energy problems. These are straightforward, direct statements, we have reached peak oil, America does not control the oil industry, the reports on reserves throughout the world are false, the age of alternatives must begin immediately.

One of the reasons he is so compelling in his writing is that he tells you that he intends to give away all of his money, he already has enough cash. Then he describes how he is giving away his cash.

We get to the plan. Here is where I am having a little bit of trouble. In his descriptions of working with natural gas, T. Boone Pickens has always not quite succeeded in making the natural gas companies the giants he envisioned them to be.

I think in a way, his attempt to sell natural gas in combination with wind energy is a kind of last attempt at leaving a legacy. He is putting his money where his convictions are. He realizes that is no longer just about the money anymore. Some people will have a hard time believing this.

The one problem I had with his book was his description of how he sold off the water rights under his land. I don't agree with this. There is too much potential for environmental damage when major aquifers are drained.

He says, on page 146, "With supply pushed to the brink of unquenchable demand, we're going to need everything. We're going to need all the oil and gas we can find. We're going to need ethanol, natural gas, solar, wind, biofuels, and nuclear."

He is describing the outcome of "being addicted to oil."
I have mixed feelings about his plan, but I hope it will break the deadlock in Washington. T. Boone Pickens plainly states he has never seen a politician capable of facing the problem of energy independence.

This is an excellent interesting book which people should read. There is a center section with full color photographs. I rather like the picture of him on the cover of Time magazine holding cards and poker chips. He also has pictures of him with his wife, George Bush, and Ronald Reagan. The back has an index.

Put aside any political differences you may have. What he is saying is very important. Get in the dialog, I took the time to sign up for http://www.pickensplan/theplan

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