It is too early to be printing "T. Boone Pickens for President" buttons.
There is, however, some intriguing political potential in the latest venture by Pickens, the chairman of Mesa Petroleum Co., whose takeover campaigns have rattled the oil industry and much of the American corporate world during the past three years.
Pickens says he wants to create a nationwide organization of stockholders and lead it against his target -- in his words, the entrenched and often inept management of big business.
His plan is to rally millions of individual and institutional shareholders to his side through a monthly newsletter that will detail his complaints against the management of specific companies. It would turn Pickens, a conservative Republican, into the Ralph Nader of the right.
"We're convinced there is a constituency that isn't represented very well," Pickens said in an interview describing his still-unnamed venture.
"I won't hesitate to identify some of these companies that are running over the owners" -- the shareholders, Pickens said. Corporate management that tries to insulate itself from takeovers that would benefit stockholders or that ducks difficult but justified corporate reorganizations are candidates for attention, he said.
Friendly deals, such as the planned merger between General Electric Co. and RCA Corp., would become targets if Pickens believes a richer price could be reached in a truly competitive auction. The lobbying efforts of corporate leaders to win favorable regulation or tax treatment are other likely topics, he said.
Pickens' critics undoubtedly will call this just another attention-getting device by a trader whose name has become synonymous with corporate takeovers, thanks to his runs at Gulf Oil and Phillips Petroleum, which produced large profits for Pickens and Mesa's partners.
And some will see this new effort by Pickens as an attempt to build his own political platform for a possible run at state or even national office.
"That's not what I'm after," Pickens said. He told reporters last year that he was not ready to become a candidate and would pass up a run for governor of Texas in 1986, supporting his friend, former Gov. Bill Clements, instead.
"I considered politics in 1985-1986 and decided that I did not want to make that race," Pickens said last year.
His political plans may be dormant, but there is no rust on his ambition to dominate the debate about mergers and the role of corporations in the economy.
Pickens' criticism of corporate management may well affect the battle on tax legislation. Congress is trying to decide whether to shift $140 billion in tax burden from individual taxpayers to corporations during the next five years. And a key to that issue is the credibility of corporate management's promises to use tax concessions to create jobs and a stronger economy. Pickens will have something to say about that. There are two constituencies he hopes to reach through his new organization, taxpayers and shareholders.
Recently, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and some 30 corporations announced a new lobbying effort called Stakeholders in America, with the goal of fighting against hostile takeovers.
The effort, headed by Raymond Plank, chairman of Apache Corp., an oil and gas exploration firm, and William C. Norris, chairman emeritus of Control Data Corp., is aimed at Pickens, the other corporate raiders and their financial allies.
As the corporate side sees it, the sermons about shareholders' rights mask the simple greed and opportunism on the part of the raiders, who have no interest in management's long-term strategies to strengthen their companies.
Pickens says he welcomes debate, and no one who has watched him work the press or a college audience will doubt his persuasive abilities. But there are some questions:
Will his version of rich man's populism have widespread appeal? Can a multimillionaire oil trader become the champion of the individual shareholder and pensioner?
If the shareholder comes first in Pickens' hierarchy, who is second? Consumers? The employes of the companies he goes after?
His critics will point out that maximizing the rights of stockholders, according to Pickens' script, means more painful restructuring of under-performing corporations, with more layoffs and unemployment, and more jarring changes in corporate ownership.
His answer is that, if each corporation consistently does the best that it can for all its stockholders, the ultimate winner is the overall economy and each consumer and employe in it.
Can he sell that story? One Pickens admirer recalled that last fall, Pickens became convinced that oil prices were about to tumble.
Others had that notion, but Pickens bet on it. Last fall, he "insured" Mesa Petroleum's estimated 1986 oil production by purchasing commodity futures contracts guaranteeing a price of $26.50 a barrel for Mesa's oil.
If oil prices had remained at that level or gone up, it would have been a very expensive mistake. Instead, prices plummeted, creating a windfall for Pickens when Mesa recently closed out its commodity position at $15 a barrel, capturing the difference between that price and the $26.50 a barrel in its futures contracts.
A trader that astute might just have a future in politics, the admirer said.