Executives in the oil and gas industry have been faring well, more so each year. Some started E&Ps with rare private-equity capital in 1999 or 2000, and have since re-entered the game on their own account, not wanting to share the upside. They've done more than well, yet many still regret the upside they left on the table in 1999 when oil was $11 and natural gas was under a buck. And, they continue to worry they will end up in the same scenario, if commodity prices plunge. It has happened before. Meanwhile, there is Guma Aguiar, a former tennis pro who got into the oil and gas business some five years ago and listened to some wildcat geologists about the potential of the Deep Bossier in Robertson County in East Texas fairly smack between Houston and Fort Worth. (For more, see Executive Of The Year: Leor Energy’s Guma Aguiar.) He invested in it with family funding (the "friends and family" angel network to which so many successful E&P leaders have turned, including Wolverine Gas & Oil, which made the Covenant Field oil discovery in Utah a few years ago and was a winner of Oil and Gas Investor's "Discovery of the Year"). Guma made more than $2B in four years flat. Bring up the story, and some folks are in awe. Some folks shake their heads. They say that many in this industry have worked hard for decades and it's shocking for someone not even in it to walk away so quickly with so much profit. Testy, testy. Is "millionaire" not enough in the oil and gas business? The new measure of success in this business appears to be "billionaire." T. Boone Pickens writes in his soon-to-be-published autobiography, The First Billion is the Hardest, that just a dozen years ago he had net wealth of under $40 million. He was 68 years old then and had not attained billionaire status yet but has quickly done so this past decade. Alan Greenspan discusses wealth and happiness in his autobiography, The Age of Turbulence, and concludes in concurrence with most individuals and groups that have studied this matter: "The evidence suggests that rising incomes do raise happiness, but only up to a point and only for a time...The evidence shows it is determined mainly by how we view our lives and accomplishments relative to those of our peers." I call this the "blackjack phenomenon." Several years ago, I endeavored to learn how to gamble better, inspired by a nephew, a student at Texas A&M at the time. After much study and time at the tables, I eventually learned that it is easy to win. But what has one gained when risking only $10 per hand, and starting with $100, and walking away 100% ahead at the end of the evening? A hundred bucks. The key is in the value of what has been risked, and the net gain is only thrilling if the risk was truly great. If risking $1,000 per hand and starting with $10,000, then the net gain of $10,000 is thrilling and meaningful...but only if $10,000 would have been a truly painful amount to lose as well. In the 1990s, the goal among E&P executives was to become millionaires. Today, the hurdle has grown to billionaire. And, that forces a higher stake at the table. Ted Turner told a story at a program hosted by the World Affairs Council of Houston and led by Matt Simmons, founder of energy investment-banking firm Simmons & Co. International and author of Twilight in the Desert on dim future Middle Eastern oil-production capacity. Turner said that when Turner Broadcasting stock (this was pre-merger with AOL) rose to a point at which he realized he was a billionaire (on paper, at least), he went home that day and told his wife, "Honey, I'm a billionaire." She (this was pre-Jane Fonda) said, "That's nice, honey. Hey, the kids need baths and dinner is...." (Truth is, though, Ted Turner was only a half-billionaire, owing half to Mrs. Turner.) Greenspan continues, "Happiness depends far more on how people's incomes compare with those of their perceived peers, or even those of their role models, than on how they are doing in any absolute material sense." He references a study of Harvard grad students. When asked if they would rather make $50,000 a year if their peers made less or $100,000 a year if their peers made twice that, most chose $50,000/year. The game of finding one's own risk hurdle is great fun and challenging, at the blackjack table and in energy-industry profit-making. Don't forget to have fun. --Nissa Darbonne, Executive Editor, Oil and Gas Investor, A&D Watch, Oil and Gas Investor This Week, www.OilandGasInvestor.com; ndarbonne@hartenergy.com.