Before T. Boone Pickens earned his fortune as an oil company executive and corporate raider, before he became a sagacious elder statesman of the business world and made his home in Preston Hollow, he was a geology student at Oklahoma A & M with a wife and daughter and a desperate need for a job.
He found one at Phillips Petroleum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, making $290 per month.
"I don't want to be too critical of Phillips," Pickens writes in a folksy, even charming essay in the September issue of Forbes Life. They didn't come looking for me. I went looking for them, and they gave me a job. But I was amused by some of the things they did."
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Things like ringing a bell to tell workers to go to lunch, to return to their desks, and to leave work. Pickens was chastised by a security guard at one point to stay past five. When he went to the Oldsmobile dealership to look at a new model, his boss called him in and told him to buy a Chevy, since a Phillips vice president owned a dealership, and to make sure and get Lee tires, which Phillips made.
"I wasn't offended because at the time I could barely afford a bicycle," he writes. "But the message was clear. They were a big company, and they got in your life pretty good."
After a couple of years, Pickens got restless at Phillips. One day, on a whim, he quit. He still had to feed his wife and two kids, so he set off on his own, starting his stint as a wildcatter.
Pickens, of course, got the last laugh. He doesn't mention it in his piece, but he nearly completed a hostile takeover of Phillips in the 1980s. The company eventually drove him off, but not before burdening itself with tremendous debt. It eventually merged with Conoco. Pickens, of course, became ridiculously rich.