Thomas Boone Pickens Jr. was born May 22, 1928, in Holdenville, Oklahoma, a cow town near the Greater Seminole oil field, which had been discovered a year earlier.

He was called “T-Bone” by his father, also named Thomas Boone Pickens, who went by Tom. He was “Boone” to his mother, the former Grace Molonson, who ran the local Office of Price Administration, rationing gasoline and other goods. The family’s roots in England intersected with those of Daniel Boone.

Pickens said he first grew a business when he expanded his newspaper-delivery route from 28 houses to 156.

Studied Geology
His father, a lawyer by training and an avid gambler, worked in the oil business, buying and selling drilling leases. After losing money as a wildcatter in the late 1930s, he moved the family to Amarillo, Texas, where Pickens attended high school. His high-school girlfriend, Lynn O’Brien, would in 1949 become his first wife.

He went to Texas A&M on a basketball scholarship and planned, he recalled in his 1987 memoir, to become a veterinarian. An injury ended his scholarship after his freshman year, and he transferred to Oklahoma A&M at Stillwater, where he studied geology, as his father wished.

After graduating in 1951, he worked three years for Phillips Petroleum Co. That’s where, as he later told it, he noticed waste and inefficiency that would inspire bids to force oil companies to maximize value for shareholders.

Mesa Petroleum
He quit Phillips in 1954 and two years later opened Petroleum Exploration Inc. Two investors put in $1,250 each for half the shares, and established a $100,000 line of credit. Pickens renamed the company Mesa Petroleum and took it public in 1964. By 1968, revenue had grown to $6.2 million with profits of $1.4 million, and by 1970, Pickens was a multimillionaire, he wrote in his 2008 memoir, “The First Billion is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks.”

Mesa went after companies Pickens believed were inefficient and undervalued, no matter their size.

In 1982, it targeted Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Cities Service. In a faceoff of M&A heavyweights, Pickens was advised by Flom, a founding partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, while Cities Service was backed by Bruce Wasserstein and lawyer Martin Lipton, at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz.

In the end, Cities Service accepted a white-knight offer from Gulf Oil, which bought out Mesa’s stake for $55 a share -- giving Mesa a profit of $31.5 million, according to Pickens.