Forbes magazine published its first issue on September 15, 1917. About a decade later, I was born, a Depression-era baby in Holdenville, Oklahoma. Around the time Forbes turned 25, I was delivering papers, expanding my small route on Broadway of America to 156 houses. Now, Forbes magazine is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and it seems like I’ve caught up with them.
Anyway, to celebrate, Forbes has released a special centennial issue featuring The World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds. Over the past century, Forbes has been recording the most pivotal moments in business, inspiring the doers to help change the world for the better. Now, they are recognizing innovators who have left a lasting impact on business and the world. Today, I am very proud and honored to find myself on their list.
Now I’ve spent a good deal of time on Forbes’ list of 400 wealthiest Americans. But this is a special honor for me. Forbes magazine editor Randall Lane said of the list: “These are the doers who have created, disrupted and innovated on a collectively historic scale.” It’s a group that includes names like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Ted Turner, Elon Musk, and Michael Bloomberg. I’m proud to be a part of this group of 100 because it celebrates the values I’ve lived, through success and failure, both in business and life.
In business, I’m perhaps best known for my attempted corporate takeovers throughout the 1980s. I have always believed that maintaining the status quo inevitably leads to failure. Back then, the notion that shareholders own the companies and managements were employees was foreign to big oil companies that would rather operate like empires. I was hell-bent on shaking things up. I was a disrupter before disrupters were cool.
I was involved in the creation of the United Shareholders Association, which was part of an effort to influence the way that large companies operated, and give them back to their true owners, the shareholders. That’s what my takeover and shareholder rights initiatives were all about.
I’m happy to say that the idea caught on: Fortune magazine wrote in 1996, “Is there anybody anymore…who doesn’t accept the supremacy of the shareholder? Is there any CEO who doesn’t understand that his primary job is to create wealth for his shareholders — and that to fail in that task will likely mean the loss of his own job?”
But innovation is not only about shaking up the world around you. It is, even more so, about reinventing and readapting one’s self.
That same year, at the age of 68, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I once read that four of the main triggers of depression are losing your job, moving out of your home, divorce, and the death of a family member or close friend. In 1996, I was four-for-four. I shut off the lights to the office at Mesa Petroleum, the company I had led for decades.
For most people, that would have been the end. For me, it was halftime. I’ve always been known for my optimism and confidence, and although I was in a rut, I knew I could carry myself out. I became laser-focused on making my new company, BP Capital, a leading commodities fund.
Then in 2008, I reinvented myself again, making personal and television appearances and using social media to once again share my concerns about the status quo, this time with America’s energy plan (or lack thereof), called, appropriately, “The Pickens Plan.” I crisscrossed the country and met with key leaders in elected offices and Americans in town halls. At the heart of it all were three critical issues: the economy, the environment, and national security. It was all about the future, and where we are headed.
Success is not a straight line. Innovation has no end. No matter where you are in life, you can be successful if you have a plan for action.
‘Retirement’ was never in my dictionary – the word ‘resurgence’ is in its place. One of my longtime associates, Bobby Stillwell, often says, “Boone has been in the prime of his life three times.” Now I’m on to four or five. I’m 24 years past traditional retirement age and still the first one in the office every morning.
So, to all the innovators, disrupters, shakers and doers, I’ll see you in the big city. Thank you to Forbes magazine for the tremendous honor to attend your centennial celebration – you are cordially invited to mine.