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T. Boone Pickens' advice for young people on the oil biz

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

T. Boone Pickens has been in the oil business for 64 years. When he began his career at Phillips Petroleum (PSX) the average price of oil was just $2.77 per barrel ($25.20 adjusted for inflation). The so-called "Oracle of Oklahoma" turns 87 this month and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

“I quit playing golf when I was 80 because I had macular [degeneration] and I couldn’t play like I did a few years before,” he says. “And I quit shooting quail when I was 80 for the same reason but I find that I’m still competitive working and I enjoy making money.”

Pickens says his philanthropy has also made him happy. He tells Yahoo Finance he’s given away over $1 billion to charity. He’s also joined Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and more in signing "The Giving Pledge," a campaign where the wealthiest people in the world commit to giving away at least half of their money. “I like all that. I don’t have any thought about retiring, I can tell you that. That’s not for me,” says Pickens.

Yahoo Finance asked him what he would tell a young person considering dropping out of school to go work in the oil and gas business. His response was uniquely Pickens.

“In 1949 my dad told me ‘you better get a plan.’ He said ‘a fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan. Your mother and I think we have a fool with no plan.’”

Skipping or leaving college to work in the booming oil industry undoubtedly has appeal, especially when the starting salary for jobs that require only a GED can be well over the average pay of someone with a bachelor’s or even master’s degree. In Midland, Texas, high school students are reportedly dropping out as early as 9th grade to work in the oil industry.

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“You can drive a truck now and make $100,000 a year,” Pickens says. He thinks that as long as young people have a plan, they’ll be okay. “I was up at Fort McMurray where the oil sands are and a young woman was driving a van up there. I said ‘Heather, tell me why are you up here driving a van,’ and she said ‘to get the money to get my engineering degree at McGill,’” says Boone.

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