Book Review: “The First Billion is the hardest – Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America’s Energy Future” by T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens has been famous for his hostile take over in the 80’s and 90’s. This book has a catchy title that caught my attention. I thought this was going to teach people how to be a billionaire. But in fact, this is a mini biography of himself and how he became rich. I was impressed by how he projected the long term trend, especially around the oil and natural gas price, and was willing to stick with it and profit and lose from it. Some of his strategy is coming back to haunt him now that the oil price has dropped significantly. According to yesterday’s newspaper, his BP Capital has lost $2B for his client.

Pickens appears to be a disciplined health nut and constantly works out. It explains why at his age of 80, he’s still as sharp as before. Near the end the book, he even joked about trading all his wealth for another shot at re-starting at 18 years old. I supposed it’s easier for him to re-start now he knows what it takes to be rich.

I did sense his whole perspective in life at this age tend to be philosophical and perhaps wordy/preachy. His charity work with animals and Oklahoma State University seems to be more self absorbing than doing good. It would be good if the book goes into much details about his early life struggling to rise from the Geologist to founding Mesa Petroleum. This would be more interesting to me. Some of the Boonisms in the book sounds pretty good to me.

As a result his advocacy for moving natural gas into fueling transportation, I did a little study about CNG (compressed natural gas). I discovered the following: Honda offer a version of Civic that runs on CNG. The problems I saw were that the tank can accommodate up to only 8 gasoline-equivalent gallons, the refilling at home could take 16 hours, the safety issue, and the extra $7K cost of the car and refilling station. Some other experts stated that it would take only 10+ years to use up all of our CNG in US, then we’re back where we are now. It doesn’t appear to be sustainable.

Pickens touched on the future water shortage and how he bought up the water rights near the Canadian river. I tend to agree with him about the water shortage issue. But buying up the water right without securing the end buyers first takes lots of guts to me.

Wind energy was touted to be the ideal renewable energy that can power the grid. Along the middle of America from Canada to Texas, the wind energy can be readily harvested. Sounds good.

Some of the noteworthy teachings: 1) action breeds more action. Take action now. 2) Success takes hard work and strong vision. 3) Stick with what you know best and leverage others for the rest. 4) Deliver value for the share holders. 5) Take care of your body. It’s your biggest asset. 6) Giving to others is as fun as receiving. Give and you shall receive. 7) Integrity is important.

The Energy plan takes leadership; nothing will happen without a strong leadership – Pickens emphasized. Who will be the leader to lead US out of dependency on oil and toward the renewable energy front? Hopeful, Obama will be the one.