The First Billion is the Hardest

I was a pastor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when T. Boone Pickens rode into town. He was even then a corporate gunslinger headed for a showdown with the largest corporation in the Steel City: Gulf Oil.
Pickens talks about this confrontation in his new book The First Billion is the Hardest. I for the stockholder, he said then (and again in his book), ignoring the many other stakeholders in any large and expensive venture (employees, retirees, taxpayers, vendors, customers—to name a few). He failed to take over the company but did force them into a sale to Chevron, by which he had a most handsome profit.
Much of that money he lost by speculating in the natural gas business; and now he is speculating in the future of water and wind. You may have seen his commercials on television promoting his solution to the energy crisis. They have the appearance of public service announcements, of disinterested advocacy in the midst of a national dilemma. I thought so until I read the book and discovered he stands to make billions of dollars if the country follows his lead.
“It’s all about leadership,” he writes repeatedly in his soon-to-be best-selling book; he claims the country has had no leadership on this issue—ever.
It will sell a bazillion copies because it is the quintessential American story: rags to riches. He tells of growing up in Oklahoma with poor but proud parents, stern but steady, cautious but kind.
Pickens doesn’t explain where he developed his unbounded ego. The book is basically 235 pages of self-promotion.
God is invoked, fleetingly, to explain his urge to give. He has donated mostly to athletics at Oklahoma State University. “I want victories,” he explained. I am sure he is a church member in good standing somewhere; it is hard for churches to stare down such well-heeled patrons.
But the book is not about religion or charity or even economics; it is about T. Boone Pickens. He sprinkles little “Booneisms” throughout the text, but most lack any compelling reason to remember.
I read the book as background for my sermon on Acts 4:32-37 which describes the attitude of those early disciples on issues like ownership, community, and generosity. Pickens might not have been comfortable with such people but then neither would most of us.
By Tuesday I will have that sermon posted but I am ready now to give the book to anyone who wants it.

Rating: ** (out of five)
Coming soon: a review of The Shack

1 comment so far

  1. John A Williams on


    The theme of this post, I have probably given more thought and study to than anything else in the last seven years since I retired from my business life. (did not even remotely get close to a billion!)

    How to engage (or re-engage) “community”? Using biblical language; Kingdom of God.

    Individuals like Boone are probably needed to raise the capital and take the initial big risks to help us as society, community, nation- however you want to characterize us- to transistion from some of the huge energy addictions we all have. As Americans we seem to have to “paint ourselves into a corner” before we act as community; energy is a perfect example!

    I too have given in my own small way to education; primarily to programs that have the potential to create new perspectives on community; such as The Meetinghouse at Georgetown and to support individuals that can envision new ways of community.

    Dwight, you made reference to Boone now speculating in water resources; if we as community do not find solutions to that one issue in the next few years, our grandchildren will be engaged in “water wars” as we presently are engaged in “oil wars”!

    I am in danger of becoming much too wordy in this comment so I will close with this; I am trying to look past the “personalities” of some individuals making billions, but taking risks in potentially solving problems of community so big as to seem to defy solution.

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