Six months ago, Greg Armstrong retired as CEO of Plains All American Pipeline LP (NYSE: PAA), leaving his successor an enterprise that pulls in $34 billion a year in revenue and two pillars of corporate wisdom: Always do the right thing and never run out of cash.

Good advice for us all, but while the former came naturally to Armstrong, the latter involved hard lessons in tough times.

His career began in 1981, a year before the failure of the Penn Square Bank began a cascade of banking troubles that made capital scarce.

“We realized pretty quickly, once you run out of cash—and we saw companies that did it—you’ve lost all ability to dictate your own future and it’s in somebody else’s hands,” Armstrong said.

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