Billionaire trader through 15 minutes work / day !

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Old Sep 29, 2008, 3:39pm   #1
BSD
 
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Billionaire trader through 15 minutes work / day !

As I wrote here, addiction or lack of balance in ones life and work relationship shouldn't be mistaken with success relevance.

Take someone like Billionaire George Soros, who achieved success beyond belief through doing something that he didn't even particularly enjoy, trading was always just a means to an end for him, a means to finance his real passions, his democracy foundation, and philosophy.

Same like fellow Billionaire T. Boone Pickens for whom trading was for a very long time also no more than a means to make money he needed for something else.

He started out as one of the big leveraged buyout artists from the eighties going after giants like Gulf Oil, that's where he made his first fortune.

Life just like trading doesn't just have ups or winners though, and eventually luck turned it's back on him, and he was left with his takeover vehicle that was producing usd 15 million in annual overhead costs alone, but without any takeovers that were succeeding to cover those costs.

So what does he do ?

He spends 15 minutes a day on speculative trading and actually manages to cover his firms 15 mill overhead from his trading profits for several years.

Hard work really never had anything to do with success.

Its not how much you do of something, it's simply about doing the right thing !

But Pickens story gets better.

At some point he is totally forced out of his firm by a hostile takeover - life writes better stories than any movie script sometimes - and he's left without anything to do.

To get out of the rut he decides to start up a commodity fund funded with usd 35 million from himself and some friends in 1997.

That fund starts out with a gut wrenching decline of 90% to less than usd 4 mill.

1999 is more or less flat, but with the advent of 2000 it goes on an exponential equity explosion taking it up to usd 252 mill, and, on top of those realised gains, up by another 148 mill in 2001, for a total of usd 400.

In the past couple of years he has headed TraderDaily's top earning traders lists with a personal income in the Billions !

The article from fortune.com is long but very definitely worth a read:




"T. BOONE PICKENS Return of the Raider At 73, former takeover artist T. Boone Pickens Jr. is doing deals, making big money, and learning--at long last--how to be happy. FORTUNE Monday, May 27, 2002 By Joseph Nocera

Pickens' Posse Ron Bassett, 59, manages Boone's personal finances and works on his ranch business. So far Boone has bought and sold six ranches, for about $6 million in profit.

Mike Boswell, 62, the former CEO of Sunshine Mining, works on the equity fund and the water deal. Boone wants to sell water that lies beneath 150,000 acres in the Texas Panhandle.

Garrett Smith, 40, helps run Boone's equity fund and is CFO of ENRG, the natural gas fueling company. With a revenue goal of $50 million for this year, an IPO may be in the works.

Bobby Stillwell, 65, was Mesa's longtime lawyer and Boone's confidant. When he retired from Baker & Botts last year, Boone said, "You're coming with me, aren't you?" Stillwell did.

"Do you think I've changed?" Boone asked.

It was late on a gorgeous spring afternoon in Dallas, and T. Boone Pickens Jr. was in a contemplative mood. He was leaning back in his comfortable leather office chair, his hands stuffed in his pockets, his feet propped up on his desk. Though he'd been getting hammered in the natural gas futures market recently, he looked like a man without a care.

Boone has lived in Dallas since 1989, but his spacious office reminded me of the one he'd had in Amarillo, Texas, when I first met him 20 years ago, back when he was running Mesa Petroleum and preparing to take on the world. There was the sports memorabilia from Oklahoma State University, his beloved alma mater. The oil painting "Trails in the Palo Duro," by the Western artist G. Harvey. The framed Mesa stock certificates. The little mementos commemorating old deals. There were a few new things as well. Pinned against the back wall was an enormous map of a four-county area in the Texas Panhandle that includes Boone's 27,000-acre ranch. It serves as a constant reminder of his audacious--and yet unrealized--plan to drill water from the aquifer that lies under that land and sell it to some water-starved Texas city like Dallas or San Antonio. There were also at least two dozen pictures of family members in prominent places all over the office: Boone's daughter Pam with her three children; Boone hunting quail with several of his grandsons; Boone with his new wife, Nelda; Boone's new stepson with his wife and children. Maybe it's just the haze of memory, but I don't remember seeing many family pictures in his office in the old days. It certainly wasn't something he talked about much.

Of course 20 years ago Boone didn't have much truck with contemplation either. He was too busy shaking up the established order as the most feared and famous of the 1980s corporate raiders. And it wasn't his style in any case. Like most CEOs I've known, he viewed serious reflection as a big waste of time. He resisted all attempts at journalistic psychoanalysis. He seemed to harbor no doubts about anything. When he did reminisce, he tended to repeat the same well-honed stories--stories in which he always came out on top.

But Boone's approaching 74 now, and he's been through things he could scarcely have imagined back when he was taking on the likes of Gulf Oil and gracing the covers of FORTUNE and Time. In the mid-1990s he lost Mesa, his life's work, a company he'd founded 40 years earlier--a deal made all the more painful by the fact that the company was put in play by a former protege. That was followed by an ugly and protracted divorce from his second wife, Bea. He struggled with depression. Some long-standing relationships--with employees, old friends, and even some of his children--became strained to the breaking point.

I was among those whose relationship with Boone had ended badly. As a young staff writer with Texas Monthly magazine in the early 1980s, I wrote about him extensively, and we became friends. When, at the peak of his fame, he decided to write his autobiography, he hired me as his ghostwriter. But after we started working on the book, I could sense him souring on me, and halfway through it he fired me. I was angry and hurt, and we didn't speak for more than 15 years.

Not long ago, Boone sent me a nice note, which I took to be an olive branch, and we began to reconnect. As we got reacquainted, I started to realize that, septuagenarian or no, Boone was involved in a surprising array of businesses and deals--and not just the water deal, which has gotten a fair amount of publicity. Boone owns 25% of a company he founded, called ENRG, that markets natural gas as a substitute for gasoline. It's doing well enough that an IPO may be in the works next year. He runs a hugely successful commodities fund that speculates in natural gas futures. He's started an equity fund that invests in undervalued energy companies. He even has a profitable little business buying ranches, fixing them up, and then selling them to wealthy hunters.

I also couldn't help noticing the money Boone was making: an astonishing $150 million in 2000 and another $100 million or so last year, thanks largely to the success of the commodities fund. Even in his heyday Boone never earned anything close to that. After the divorce in 1998, Boone was worth $37 million. Today his net worth is upwards of $200 million; he's made more money in his 70s than in the rest of his life put together.

As we spent more time together I began to sense something else: The man I was getting to know again was in many ways different from the raider I'd met two decades before. After 30 years of knowing only success, he had spent a decade being humbled, and that experience had changed him. As to how it changed him, well, I eventually realized one last thing: Answering that question--the question he'd just asked me--was what this story was really about.

He told me to meet him at the entrance of a New York office building; we could fly back to Dallas together in his private jet. "We can catch up on the ride back," he said--just like we'd always done in the old days.

The old days, indeed. Boone had come to New York on this early April morning for a meeting with the chairman of a small energy company called Penn Virginia. A few weeks earlier Boone had filed a document with the SEC disclosing that he--or more precisely, the BP Energy Equity fund, his new $125 million equity fund--had taken a 7.1% stake in the company. In the document Boone described Penn Virginia as "undervalued" and said that the company might be a candidate "for a leveraged buyout or sale." It was one of two stakes he has publicly disclosed, the other being an 8.4% ownership in a larger energy company called Vintage Petroleum. In other words, Boone was approaching his 74th birthday by getting back into the corporate-raiding game--or at least some small, genteel version of it.

By the time I got to the office building, Boone was already outside. He was wearing a tweed sports jacket and a Western-style monogrammed shirt with no tie--Boone almost never wears a tie anymore, even when he's visiting the chairmen of companies he has taken a position in. He looked older, of course, but not substantially different. A lifelong health fanatic, Boone is still in great shape, though he now has a slight paunch he can't get rid of no matter how much he exercises. He sometimes wears hearing aids, though he didn't have them in on this day. Rather, he had a cellphone pressed against his ear. I knew he had to be checking in with the office. Some things never change.

Walking next to him was his longtime consigliere, Robert Stillwell. For 33 years, as a lawyer with the Houston firm of Baker & Botts, "Bobby" Stillwell served as Mesa's outside counsel; for most of that time he was Boone's closest advisor and confidant. Boone, Stillwell says, is a man of "tremendous loyalty," but he had long demanded total loyalty in return, and his definition of loyalty could be pretty taxing. Stillwell was one of the few who always passed the test, who accepted the fact that with Boone, you had the chance to do some pretty exciting things, like lead the hostile takeover and shareholder rights movements, but you were also expected to get involved in Boone's more quixotic causes. Since joining Boone full-time at the beginning of the year upon reaching his firm's mandatory retirement age of 65, Stillwell had been deeply involved in the new equity fund, which he enjoyed. But he was also working on the water deal, which was fraught with difficulty and steeped in politics--and had as much to do with Boone's desire to stick it to his old hometown of Amarillo as it did with his desire to make money.

We drove to the airport, strapped ourselves into the plane, and headed for Dallas. Even before we were in the air, the two men began recounting the Penn Virginia meeting. They sounded like nothing so much as an old married couple.

"I think they were expecting us to make a buyout proposal right there," laughed Boone. Stillwell agreed. "Can't see why else they would have had all those people in the room"--including the company's lawyers and investment bankers.

"We told them we were just coming up there to introduce ourselves, now that we're shareholders," said Boone. During the meeting, he added, he had told the chairman that he had no interest in running Penn Virginia himself, no matter how the deal played out. "Those days are over," he said now. "No more of that Phillips Petroleum stuff." This was a reference to his 1985 takeover battle with Phillips, during which he'd said publicly that he would move to Bartlesville, Okla., where Phillips was headquartered, if he acquired the company. "Bea said she wouldn't go." He let out a small chuckle. "Boy, wouldn't that have been great?"

Boone had started the equity fund last August, seeding it with $90 million, money that was supplied not only by him but by old friends like Alan "Ace" Greenberg, the longtime chairman of Bear Stearns, and Fayez Sarofim, the wealthy Houston money manager. Boone believes strongly that the energy industry is headed for a new round of consolidation; the fund was a way to play his theory. The small team he'd assembled--all people he'd worked with in the past and with whom he was extremely comfortable--would find energy companies that seemed like potential acquisition candidates. Then they would buy stock in these companies and either wait for someone else to take them over or begin pressing for a sale or an LBO. Late last year the fund acquired stakes in several companies that wound up being bought out even before Boone had a chance to disclose his holdings. As a result the fund was up 17% by the end of the year, and he felt his concept had been validated.

Boone wants to make things happen pretty quickly. "At my age," he says, "you don't have time to plant small trees." But he isn't much interested in "going hostile" anymore. These days it's almost impossible to take over a company that doesn't want to be acquired. Just about every state has enacted anti-takeover legislation--laws prompted, in large part, by the political reaction to Boone and other raiders like Carl Icahn and Irwin Jacobs. And anti-takeover defenses such as poison pills make it awfully difficult to engage in the kind of hardball tactics Boone used in the 1980s.

On the other hand, the world has changed since Boone's raiding days. People who buy large stakes in poorly performing companies aren't called raiders anymore; they're called "shareholder activists." And company managements are now under intense pressure to get the price of the stock up and reward their shareholders. One reason Boone engaged in hostile takeovers in the old days is that whenever he became a big shareholder of a company, management just told him to go away. ("They used to say, 'Screw the stock price, let's get him,' " recalls Stillwell.) That doesn't happen anymore; "creating shareholder value" is simply too important in today's business culture. Without question, Boone had a lot to do with that transformation; to my mind, helping bring about that change is his legacy. Penn Virginia may not have been happy that he was a big stockholder, but the company would certainly be looking for ways to get the share price up, even if he did nothing more. "I've got the strong sense that they're already working on a plan," said Stillwell. Boone agreed.

That subject exhausted, I asked Boone about his water deal. He controls the underground water rights to 150,000 acres in the Panhandle north of Amarillo, including his own ranch. He wants to build a pipeline that could transport that water to some parched city; depending on the pipeline's route, it could cost anywhere from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion. Boone's plan is highly controversial in Amarillo, where many people accuse him of trying to profit by diverting water, as in the movie Chinatown, that "belongs" in the Panhandle. Three years since coming up with the idea, Boone has spent $4 million on studies, consultants, and lawyers, and he still doesn't have either a permit to drill for water or a customer that has agreed to buy it. But he has no intention of giving up. "We're going to win this thing," he said. (As FORTUNE went to press, the permit approval was imminent.)

What I wanted to know was why? Why, at his age, was he spending so much time and effort and money on a venture with such a high degree of difficulty? Especially since, by his own calculations, he was never going to make much money on the deal.

His answer, essentially, was that he was trying to protect himself from the predations of his old hometown. One of the local water authorities had begun pumping water from the ranch adjoining his; since that water comes from the aquifer that lies under his property, eventually his water would be drained as well. "I don't need the money," Boone said. "I'll set it up so that I give anything I make to charity. But I'm in a tough spot if I don't do something. I'll get drained. I'll be damned if I'm going to let that happen." The fact that he could see a solution to a pressing problem also pushed his buttons. "If this pipeline runs through West Texas, we can solve their water problems for the next hundred years," he said. Mainly, though, it was just a lot of fun trying to pull off a deal this complicated.

What struck me most as I listened to Boone was how calm he was about everything, how at peace he seemed. Twenty years ago he had a surface calm, but he was always roiling inside. And he had a very long memory; as Wales Madden, an old Amarillo friend, puts it, "Boone was too quick to remember and too slow to forget." But he wasn't like that anymore.

I knew he was disappointed that he'd only been able to raise $125 million for his equity fund; he'd expected to have three or four times that sum by now. In part he'd assumed that his name and reputation would be enough to bring in money. But as he searched for investors, he'd discovered that a lot of 30- and 40-year-old institutional investors barely knew who he was--and were telling him his fund would have to prove itself like any other new fund. Once, Boone might have responded to questions about the fund's size with sarcasm or recriminations. Not now. "We had unrealistic expectations," he shrugged.

In the old days, too, Boone would have talked my ear off all the way to Dallas, and I would have peppered him with questions at the slightest pause in the conversation. But it's not just Boone and Stillwell who've gotten older; so have I. Which is why, after an hour or so, the talk tapered off, and by the time we were over Missouri, the three of us were fast asleep.

"I should have stopped after the Gulf deal," Boone said one night. "I would have been a folk hero."

We were having dinner at his ranch, and the subject had turned, inevitably, to the past. When I first knew Boone, his ranch had been called the 2B--the initials stood for Boone and Bea. He raised cattle on it back then, and his small, utilitarian ranch house stood on another part of the property. After he and Bea separated, he changed the name to Mesa Vista and sold off 4,000 acres that included the original house. Now his ranch house was large and even a little opulent, and though he still had a small cattle operation, he used the property primarily to hunt quail, to entertain family (especially his 14 grandchildren)--and to find solace.

"Did I ever tell you about the time Drew Lewis came up here?" he asked. Lewis, a Transportation Secretary under Ronald Reagan, was CEO of Warner Amex Cable at the time of the visit. "It was right after the Time cover story," Boone continued. Lewis had just come from a meeting of the Business Roundtable, and he told Boone that the organization had decided to start a public relations campaign against him. "Ol' Drew said they'd raised something like $10 million right there on the spot." The Business Roundtable, of course, comprised the big old-line companies that Pickens had made suddenly vulnerable with his takeover attempts. "He said that I'd better dig a hole and get in it, because they were coming after me," Boone said.

The Time magazine cover story had come out in the spring of 1985, less than a year after the Gulf deal--his most breathtaking raid by far and his most financially successful. It was the third of the six big hostile takeovers he attempted between 1982 and 1987, and though he didn't take over the company in the end--let's be honest here; he never did land one--he did ultimately force the oil giant into the arms of Chevron, netting Mesa $404 million for its Gulf stake. The Gulf battle had been a high-stakes drama, transforming Boone, for a brief moment, into the most famous businessman in America, the folksy yet swashbuckling corporate raider. It also made him seem invincible. But he wasn't. Within a few years, Boone's world began to slowly fall apart.

Not that he could see it coming. With a hubris born of that early success, Boone launched hostile raids on Phillips and Unocal, fully expecting even greater victories. Though Mesa made a little money on Phillips, Unocal handed him a defeat so resounding that it pretty much ended his corporate-raiding career. After that, says a former lieutenant, "it was just a long, slow, grinding decline."

Mesa by the mid-1980s was the largest independent exploration company in the country. But 80% of its reserves were natural gas, and the price of natural gas was sinking. Boone, however, was convinced that over the long term, natural gas prices had to go up--and he bet the company on that belief. He borrowed money to purchase reserves that made economic sense only if gas prices rose, which they didn't. Worse, he had begun to pay a large distribution to Mesa's shareholders in a deliberate attempt to show that he, at least, was a CEO who put his shareholders first. As gas prices declined--and Mesa could no longer afford to pay the distribution from cash flow--Boone borrowed money to make the payments. Ultimately, Mesa paid $1.1 billion to its shareholders--and wound up saddled with $1.2 billion in debt. That debt became the noose that strangled the company.

When I asked Boone what had been his biggest mistake in business, he didn't hesitate. "Giving all that money to the shareholders," he said. "I thought there would be a huge outcry if we stopped doing it." But when, in 1990, he realized he had to stop paying the distribution, there was no outcry at all. "I was astounded," he said. "It just wasn't that big a deal." As for his bet on natural gas, the price did eventually rise, but far too late for Mesa. As he's fond of saying, "You can be dead right--and dead."

As Mesa and its stock slowly sank, so did Boone's mood. "I think he was embarrassed somewhat," says a former aide. "In 1985, Boone could say he had a 20-year record of returning shareholders a 28% compounded rate of return. But over the next ten years, that record got chipped away, and it wasn't so great anymore. All the people who used to slap him on the back and thank him for making them money, they weren't doing that anymore. It weighed on him."

Indeed, his relationship with the entire city of Amarillo seemed to go bad. Boone became a polarizing figure in town, a lightning rod for criticism. When he got involved in local affairs--as with his stormy tenure as the head of the board of regents at nearby West Texas State University (now known as West Texas A&M)--his critics accused him of highhandedness. Boone, who thought he should be embraced for lending a hand to local institutions, bristled at the criticisms. Of course his view was also that he was right and his critics were wrong, and that didn't help either.

The symbol of this deteriorating relationship was Boone's feud with the Amarillo Globe-News. Even during the glory years, it always bothered him that the paper insisted on labeling him a raider. (He still hates the label: "I never liked being called a raider," he says. "I never destroyed anything.") Like a ballplayer who starts yelling back at the fans when he's in a slump, Boone began writing critiques of articles and sending them to the editors. He dispatched emissaries to the newsroom to complain about the coverage of him--and threatened to leave Amarillo if things didn't change. Boone even set up an organization, run by Mesa executives, urging people to cancel their subscriptions. He handed out bumper stickers that read i cancelled. When Globe-News general manager Jerry Huff was transferred to a paper in Georgia, Boone hung a banner from the top of the Mesa building that read good-bye, jerry.

It was a sad spectacle, and for many Mesa executives, extremely distasteful. Most of them were young men who had joined Mesa in the expectation that they'd be doing bigtime Wall Street deals. In the mid-1980s, working for Mesa had been exhilarating--"the most fun I ever had in business," one of them says now. But feuding with the Globe-News was not what they'd signed up for, and they started to leave. In 1989, Boone decided he'd had enough. He and Mesa moved to Dallas.

By then his marriage to Bea--whom he'd wed in 1972--was in bad straits, though like his business decline, it unraveled in slow motion. His relations with his four children from his first marriage, now grown, were chilly. (His fifth child, Liz, is Bea's youngest; Boone adopted her after he married Bea.) Some nights, after he got home from a difficult day at the office, he would head for the driving range and hit buckets of golf balls, just to be out of the house.

Boone now believes his depression began in the early 1990s. "When you're depressed," he says, "you don't have any energy. I was tired all the time." At the least, he was under a lot of stress and not handling it well. Humor had long been his saving grace; now it took on a hard, unpleasant edge. He would denigrate former lieutenants after they left the company--or even before they left. He railed at those he felt had wronged him.

He also felt enormous pressure to turn Mesa around--all by himself. "He used to say, 'I got us in this ditch. I'm going to get us out of it,' " recalls Sidney Tassin, who spent 14 years at Mesa before leaving in 1994. "I isolated myself," Boone agrees. "I felt like I had to both throw the ball and catch it. That's a pretty tough thing to do."

By the mid-1990s, Mesa was in terrible shape: its cash dwindling, its billion-dollar debt coming due, its ability to raise money on Wall Street largely gone. From 1989 to 1994, Mesa lost between $60 million and $200 million annually. Anyone paying attention could see that Boone needed to restructure Mesa.

Unfortunately for him, one of the people playing closest attention was his former chief strategist, David Batchelder, who had left Mesa in 1988 under the usual strained circumstances. Smelling opportunity, Batchelder rounded up some wealthy investors, including billionaire Marvin Davis. They took a stake in Mesa and publicly demanded that Boone find a way to get the stock price up--or else. Thus it was that the student turned the tables on the teacher.

What followed was a battle that Boone never really had a chance to win. "Mesa just had a poor set of cards," says Tassin. The spat between Boone and Batchelder turned into a public humiliation. The press delighted in the irony of seeing Boone on the receiving end of a hostile takeover. When Boone pushed for poison pill and golden parachute provisions, he was mocked as a hypocrite. It infuriated him that Batchelder had set in motion events that caused him to be held up to such scrutiny and ridicule--and if the truth be known, it still bothers him. In Boone's view Batchelder had come to Mesa as a young man, learned a tremendous amount, and left with $8 million in his pocket. And this was the thanks Boone got?

Batchelder, for his part, claims that Boone's ire was never justified--that his motives were always benign. "Boone knows our intent was never to have the company taken over," he says. "The sole intent was to make some money off something I was convinced he would do--deleverage Mesa."

In the end, though, Mesa was taken over. In February 1996, seeing no way out of his predicament, Boone agreed to hand over control to Texas investor Richard Rainwater, whom he had known for years and with whom he cut a deal. Rainwater wound up recapitalizing Mesa with just $300 million of new equity, of which Rainwater himself put up $130 million. Though Boone stayed on the board for another year, he was effectively out. In late 1997, Boone sold his Mesa stock for $35 million. Less than a year later he left the board.

In retrospect it was good that Boone left Mesa--good for the company (which is now called Pioneer) and good for Boone, who desperately needed a fresh start. And he's happy to admit as much. But he still can't look back without shaking his head. "Gawd almighty," he exclaims. "It only took $300 million to recapitalize the company! There's no way I couldn't have raised $300 million. But I was so beaten down. It really shows you that I wasn't thinking clearly."

He has always been a great speculator. I remember traveling with Boone in the 1980s, watching in amazement as he bet big on cattle futures, pork bellies, you name it. Eventually he abandoned those markets to concentrate on natural gas and crude oil futures. He may have been wrong about the long-term price of natural gas, but when it came to betting on short-term trends, he had few peers. Between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, Boone actually covered Mesa's $15 million annual administrative overhead by playing the futures market. "He used to do it out of his back pocket," marvels Stillwell. "He'd spend 15 minutes a day on it."

So it was hardly a surprise when, after exiting Mesa, Boone decided to set up a small commodities fund that would concentrate on natural gas futures. He gathered a small team of loyalists to staff it and rounded up the usual suspects to help fund it, including Ace Greenberg and Fayez Sarofim. The BP Capital Energy fund opened for business in May 1997 with $36 million in capital.

In his office one day Boone showed me a chart of the fund's five-year performance record. It goes up a little at first before making a long, steep descent; by the end of 1998, the fund is down almost 90%, to less than $4 million. It recovers a little in 1999, and suddenly, with the arrival of 2000, it leaps straight up. By the end of 2000, the fund is up to $252 million for an eye-popping gain of 5,400%. The following year--last year, that is--it's up another $148 million.

"What Boone did in 2000 constitutes one of the greatest individual trading runs of all time," says Tassin. My own view is that his performance last year was even more impressive. After all, in 2000 gas prices finally went up, just as Boone had been predicting. But in 2001, they fell--from $10 per thousand cubic feet to around $3--and Boone still made buckets of money. Yet as I looked at the chart, I couldn't help noticing something else. It may be just a coincidence, but its fall and eventual rise almost perfectly mirror Boone's emotional state during those years.


If the late 1980s were dominated by Boone's feud with Amarillo, and the early and middle 1990s by the troubles at Mesa, then the middle to late 1990s constituted the Years of the Divorce. It was brutal--a knock-down, drag-out battle that lasted for two years and didn't end until mid-1998. It was filled with charges and countercharges, with bitterness and recriminations. It consumed Boone. Combined with the way he had lost Mesa, the divorce nearly destroyed him. It got to the point where people didn't want to be around him, knowing they'd be harangued about Batchelder or Rainwater or Bea. It got to the point, in fact, where Boone was spending more time talking to his divorce lawyer than to just about anyone else.

Which, it turns out, was a damn lucky thing. The man's name is John McShane; he's been doing divorce law for 35 years, and he's seen just about everything--though, he says, the Pickens case was "about the toughest I've ever been involved in." After they got to know each other, Boone and McShane became very close, and pretty soon Boone was confiding in him, expressing his deepest fears and his innermost thoughts in a way he'd never done with anyone before. McShane was thus in a position to see firsthand the emotional damage Boone was suffering--but he was also in a unique position to do something about it.

Early in 1997, McShane confronted Boone. He told Boone that he thought he was suffering from clinical depression and needed help. Once, Boone might have waved him off or made some joke to deflect his concern. Not now. "What do you recommend that I do?" he replied.

Boone went to see a psychotherapist, and he spent a short time taking antidepressants. Pretty soon he was back to his old self. Except that he wasn't his old self anymore--not really. Something happened as he emerged from the darkness, something good. As his daughter Liz puts it, "He really did become a kinder, gentler Boone." Part of it, Liz believes, had to do with the simple fact that the divorce came to an end. "I so desperately wanted them to stay together," she says. "But now it's clear that they're both so much better apart." Another part of it is that Boone started to think hard about how he'd spent his life and how he wanted to spend the rest of it. The old bitterness and resentments, most of them, went away. He abandoned old grudges. He regained his sense of humor. He just became--there is no other way to put it--nicer. "He knows who he is and what he's about," says one old friend, "and that hasn't always been the case." He wasn't trying to impress the world anymore, or change it, or make people see that he had it all figured out. He was instead a man in his 70s who'd lived a pretty interesting life and wanted to enjoy what was left of it. Suddenly he was a lot of fun to be around.

Of course it didn't hurt that in 1999 he met a woman named Nelda Cain and fell madly in love. They met on a blind date, and, she says, the attraction was immediate. Nelda, 52, a family therapist, has had her share of rocky times; she's twice divorced and has raised a son largely on her own. As she and Boone grew closer, she says, "we were both scared to death." They broke up for six months, during which time she moved to Aspen. But Boone kept calling. Finally he asked her to come to Dallas for a party, and she consented. She never went back. They flew to California on a vacation and had a long talk about whether they should get married. When Boone proposed, he began with the immortal words, "Neither one of us can afford to book another loss." She laughed out loud.

I couldn't help wondering if Nelda would have fallen in love with the person Boone used to be. I have my doubts--and so does she. When she talks about him, she uses words like "openness" and "honesty." She talks about his "generous heart" and "dry wit." She says things like, "He's gotten more forgiving of himself and others." I had dinner with them one night; a year and a half into their marriage they still act like newlyweds. "It's nice to see," says McShane. "It's such a contrast to the dark days."

Boone did one other thing to repair his personal life. Two days before Christmas in 1999, he wrote a letter to his children admitting that in his quest for business success, he'd often left them behind. He asked for the chance to repair the relationship while there was still time. Even before the letter, his daughter Pam, now a broker in Tulsa, had begun the process of trying to mend her relationship with her father. "It was hard, growing up in our house," she says. "But my dad has changed. He's more giving, and more generous with his time. And he's remorseful for things that happened." She adds, "My relationship with my father is a huge part of my life, and I get a lot of fulfillment out of it." Still, Boone remains estranged from several of his children. It's the great, lingering sadness in his life.

"How's your golf game?" I asked Boone one day in the office.

"Terrible," he groaned, and then explained, with a grimace, that his swing had abandoned him. It got so bad that Boone would lift his club and then just freeze at the top. Boone has no idea why this has happened. He'd seen a golf psychologist and consulted with his friend Mike Holder, the Oklahoma State golf coach, but to no avail. He gave me a pained shrug. "I'll tell you something," he said. "If I could get my golf game back, I'd give all this up in a minute." Then he laughed.

In fact, it's hard to believe that Boone could ever give up coming to the office, even for golf. "Boone's always had the ability to make money," says Stillwell, but it's more than that. Making money is what he does for fun--for relaxation, even--and he's making more of it now than he ever has before. He's surrounded by people whom he knows and trusts and likes. He does only things that interest him. If he wants to give away millions to charity--and he does--who's going to tell him he can't?

In the old days, Boone, like most CEOs, used to be scheduled practically to the second. Now he usually comes to the office with a looser agenda--no more than a couple of planned meetings--and spends the rest of his time on the phone, which has always been his lifeline. People want to hear what he thinks about oil and gas prices, and he tells them. He trades market information and gossip with Wall Street pals. He calls friends in the Panhandle to find out what's going on up there. He constantly watches the ebb and flow of natural gas prices. Sometimes he works from the ranch, where he has a huge computer screen against a wall in his bedroom. Sometimes he even goes on vacation--though he still checks in with the office ten times a day. In the old days he used to stay late or go back to work after dinner. Now he leaves the office at a reasonable hour to get home to Nelda and his dog, Murdock.

He's even enjoying himself when he's not making money, which was decidedly the case in early April, when I was reporting the bulk of this story. Early in the year, sensing a temporary oversupply in the gas market, Boone had shorted gas futures. For the first two months of the year, his strategy worked beautifully. But he kept the position too long, and in March the market turned against him. As a result both of his funds were underwater. (The equity fund uses natural gas futures as a complicated hedge.) Like all great speculators, Boone was completely unruffled by the situation. His focus was on figuring out where to go from here.

So he'd gather his small team in the conference room, and they'd sit for a couple of hours, hashing over the state of the markets, the state of their funds, the state of their fundraising efforts, the state of the water deal, the state of just about anything that popped into their heads. They made lots of jokes, as often as not about their ages. They wandered in and out searching for snacks. They kept a constant eye on the big computer screen that tracks the prices of energy stocks and futures contracts. As I watched them, the image that came to mind was that movie from a few years ago, Space Cowboys, in which four old codgers, astronauts from an earlier era, have to go up into space one last time to save the world. Boone and his gang are the Wall Street version of Space Cowboys. They've all been around the block a few times, but they can still show the young whippersnappers on Wall Street a thing or two. Having the market turn against you--hell, that's just part of the deal sometimes. Indeed, by the end of April the commodities fund was back in the black, and Boone was now long natural gas. "If gas prices rise the way we think they will, we're going to have a good year," he said happily.

The only person who seemed really agitated was Boone's futures trader. Then again, he's 25. One day I was sitting in an office next to him, and I overheard him talking to a trader on the other end of the phone. "You never heard of Boone Pickens?" he said. "He is large! He used to own Mesa Petroleum. He tried to take over Gulf Oil. That's my boss." I had to smile.

It was on my last afternoon in Dallas that Boone asked me the question that begins this story: Did I think he had changed? I had been thinking about this for days, of course, but I was still caught off guard when he asked it, and I stumbled for an answer. I responded by ticking off the things that would seem obvious to anyone who hadn't seen him in a long time. His tongue wasn't as sharp as it used to be, I told him. He had more patience. He let things roll off him that he once would have picked at like a scab. He was easier to be around. What I didn't say--but wish I had--was that Boone finally seemed happy. And that I was happy that it had turned out this way for him.

Boone stared up at the ceiling as I recited my little litany. "I agree with all that," he said. "I'll tell you something else. I'm a better listener too. Back then, nobody could tell me anything. I knew everything." He shook his head in dismay at the memory of his former self. "I didn't, of course. But I thought I did."

Just then, his daughter Liz called. "You're smiling today," she began after he'd said hello.

"Yeah," Pickens replied with a chuckle, "we finally made some money today." She knew that he'd been taking a beating in the market recently, and they talked for a few minutes about whether natural gas prices were finally going in his direction. Then he gently changed the subject. "Listen," he said, "I got ol' Joe Nocera in here, and we're working."

"So you're cutting me off?" she laughed.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Well, okay. Goodbye. I love you."

"I love you too," said T. Boone Pickens Jr."
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Old Sep 29, 2008, 4:12pm   #2
 
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From the title of this post I thought you were selling a new trading system.
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Old Sep 29, 2008, 4:18pm   #3
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Old Jul 21, 2009, 12:10pm   #5
 
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As "Glenda Slagg" might say, "Crazy name, crazy guy!".

I've seen him speak via the web, and he can be very entertaining.
I just have to get out of my head the idea that he's a character from "The Beverly Hillbillies".
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Old Jul 21, 2009, 12:13pm   #6
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BSD started this thread Nice.

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