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In contrast to the button-down corporate world, Texan T. Boone Pickens cultivated a looser, more informal style. But when it came to making deals, he was all business.

In recent years, energy billionaire T. Boone Pickens was known as a generous booster of Oklahoma State University and a folksy commentator on the world of energy and commerce.

But those who go back a few decades will remember a different kind of image for the iconoclastic businessman. Touting investor interests, he used his financial wherewithal to buy stock in major oil companies — Gulf to name just one — and force stodgy managements to make big changes that had the effect of enriching Pickens and fellow investors in his Mesa oil company.

His critics called him a “greenmailer.” Pickens acknowledged the charge but said, “I prefer the term ‘shareholder activist.’”

Pickens always insisted he was motivated not just by the pursuit of profit but a desire to shake up self-interested managers of public companies who overlooked the interests of shareholders.

“I was right about corporate America,” he said “They really truly believed back there in the ’80s that if you got to be CEO, you owned the company.”

Pickens died last week at age 91, having earned, lost and given away the equivalent of several fortunes. Just as Pickens lived big, he won and lost big.

Forbes magazine noted that “Pickens literally tilted at windmills, launching his ambitious Pickens Plan to build $2 billion worth of wind energy projects.”

But a recession and the shale drilling boom severely undermined Pickens’ plans. He lost his shirt, but with good cheer, at least in public.

“I’ve lost $2 billion, given away one, and I’ve got one left,” he said.

Current U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said that Pickens lived a “Texas-sized” life.

Not everyone found him or his controversial pursuits admirable, but his down-home drive and ambition gave the impression of a man who lived a full life to the very end.

As he noted in a recent letter to OSU football fans, “I’m realistic about being close to the finish line. And I’m working diligently to complete projects as quickly as I can and tie up any loose ends.”

News-Gazette