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US oil legend, billionaire T. Boone Pickens enters a new phase

3 min

New York (AFP)

T. Boone Pickens has long cast an outsized shadow in American business, but the 89-year-old oil industry stalwart recently faced a reckoning of sorts, as health challenges forced him to rethink his activities.

He said good-bye this week to the corporate rough-and-tumble, but "with fingers crossed, I have no intention of fading away."

Pickens, a veteran of boardroom brawls and an oil industry gadfly who has seen it all as far as booms and busts, announced on January 12 that he was shutting his energy hedge fund, BP Capital.

The move effectively ends a more than 60-year business career that was in many respects ahead of its time.

"Health-wise, I'm still recovering from a series of strokes I suffered late last year, and a major fall over the summer," he wrote earlier this month on LinkedIn.

"If you are lucky enough to make it to 89 years of age like I have, those things tend to put life in perspective."

Born in Oklahoma but more closely identified with his adopted Texas, Pickens vaulted to prominence in the 1980s, along with other brass-knuckles corporate titans such as Carl Icahn.

Pickens made the cover of Time Magazine in 1985 as a "corporate raider" after his Mesa Petroleum bought shares in Gulf Oil and began pressuring the company to restructure itself and boost shareholder returns. Gulf was later sold to Chevron, netting Mesa a huge payday.

The strategy has since become commonplace on Wall Street, though today's billionaire shareholder critics are usually called "activists" and not "raiders" because there is less talk of completely taking over a company.

Pickens founded BP Capital in 1997 and rode the fund to great riches in oil and gas price movements.

Other bets were less successful, such as an early wind energy investment, and he wrongly predicted oil supply would soon peter out, an idea known as "peak oil."

Pickens has been a longtime Republican political donor, although some of his positions have been difficult to pigeonhole as falling in one political camp or another.

He championed natural gas as "bridge fuel" to a non-fossil fuel future, in part to reduce the flow of funds to OPEC nations, but also as a nod to environmental concerns.

"I don't believe climate change is as certain or as dangerous as many fear, but it's worth worrying about," he said on Twitter in 2016.

Despite his retirement, he signaled he will not ride off into the Texas sunset entirely.

"I am creating a new plan that will include turning my full attention to recovering my health and continuing to invest in personal passions like promoting unbridled entrepreneurship and philanthropic and political endeavors" he said.

"I fully intend to continue to provide my perspective on energy and cultural commentary."

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