Poker faces are as prized in corporate America as they are at the card table, and a standing-room-only crowd got a glimpse of one of the finest last Monday.
Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens and former Texas Gov. John B. Connally were speaking that night at the Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells, near Palm Springs. Pickens, in a speech titled "American Capitalism: Back to Basics," delivered his usual pitch--that hired corporate managers have not done a good job for shareholders.
At the end of Pickens' talk, one of the questioners was none other than Unocal Corp. Chairman Fred Hartley, whose lawyers were preparing to file a lawsuit the next day against Unocal's longtime banker, Security Pacific National Bank, over loans to Pickens' firm, Mesa Petroleum. Hartley believes that Pickens is attempting a hostile takeover of the oil company despite Pickens' claims that his investor group bought its 9.7% Unocal stake purely as an investment.
As he stood, Hartley didn't tip his hand about Tuesday's activities or even ask about Pickens' intentions toward Unocal.
Instead, Hartley "made a statement to the effect that he knew that all the Gulf stockholders had made out very well and that they were all wealthy and retired in Palm Beach," said Pickens, whose bid for Gulf Oil Corp. resulted in its merger with Chevron Corp. in early 1984.
"Then he asked, 'What are you going to do about Chevron's $13 billion in debt' " incurred during the merger, Pickens said. "I don't have anything to do with Chevron. That company is run by George Keller, and I told him so."
A Unocal spokeswoman confirmed that Hartley was at the Eldorado Country Club, but declined to comment on what was said.
Pickens said he was "not particularly" surprised by Hartley's appearance. Hartley has attended other speeches he has delivered, Pickens said, including one at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles about six weeks ago, before the Pickens group announced its purchase of Unocal stock.
"I shook hands with him at the California Club and we haven't exchanged pleasantries since then," Pickens added.