It was October 2013. Two years had passed since I had left the family business in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to London, England to start my own oil trading company. My time in the family business, as a director in the telecoms division and upstream oil & gas company was challenging to say the least but engaging and ultimately rewarding. However, I have never felt comfortable sitting back and getting a golden pass through life. Whilst the easy thing to do was to be a “good boy and good son” and enjoy all the luxuries of being in a family business – I decided that striking it out on my own once again was the best course of action.
I’ve always loved the oil & gas business, like many other Nigerians. However, what I love about the business, particularly the exploration and production (upstream) side, was the mixture of strategy, operational capability, technical know-how, politics and business acumen which all had to be married with a gambling spirit and sheer luck to be successful. In my decision to move to London, I decided I would only be in the oil & gas business as long as it didn’t pose a direct conflict to the family’s interests. There is striking it out on your own and then there is just being plain foolish. Luckily for me, I had stopped being foolish by then.
The modus operandi of my oil trading business was simple. I kept an office in Lagos with a small team of five to run operations and logistics. I converted one of the bedrooms in my townhouse in London into a study. My team in Lagos under my guidance would get oil trading contracts and I, sitting in London, would either market these contracts to the global oil trading houses to execute in Nigeria on a joint venture (JV) basis or in some instances, I would find the capital to execute the contract from end to end. This formula proved effective and it was good enough to pay my bills and afford me an above modest lifestyle.
One of the traits I took from my parents is that I am highly ambitious and find it hard to sit still. There always has to be a new conquest, a new mountain to climb, or, as is the case most times, a new business to go after. Oil trading was my day job but was never exciting to me except for when I got paid. After days and weeks in London plotting my next move, I came up with an idea and a plan. In the world of upstream oil & gas, especially in Africa, companies that were operators, actively producing oil & gas in commercial quantities that wanted to invest or participate in the oil business were the darlings of the industry. They were like the prettiest girl in high school and every guy wanted her to come to the prom with him.
Most of the oil producing nations in sub-Saharan Africa such as Nigeria, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea would always require any investor into oil & gas assets in their country to either be an oil & gas operator with production on stream or be partnered with an operator, deemed a “technical partner”. This logic makes sense. If you are going to buy prized national assets, you should have the know how to develop and operate them or at least be partnered with an entity that does. I decided that I was going to use a Trojan Horse strategy. I had read ancient Greek literature when I’d attended military academy in Texas and it served as inspiration. I would acquire an oil & gas operating company in Europe (the Trojan Horse), where the political barriers and costs to entry in comparison to Africa would be significantly lower. I would then use this newly acquired company, which would now be of Afro-European in heritage, to become a technical partner to many local and international investors in the upstream oil & gas business in Africa. This company would be the first of its kind and likely the most sought-after oil & gas company on the African continent because of its unique DNA and ownership. After thinking of this idea, I took myself out to a bar a few blocks from my house and ordered myself a nice strong drink. I felt like a genius.
I registered a new upstream oil & gas investment company offshore and called it, The Catalan Corporation. The name didn’t really have a meaning, it just sounded nice and had a confident, stately demeanour to it. To keep costs at a minimum, I decided to put together an advisory board that consisted of Vance Querio, the COO of Addax Petroleum at the time and an industry professional and my mentor (who will remain nameless for good reason), one of Africa’s biggest business giants. Vance was all too happy to join and signed on quickly. I called my mentor and before signing on, he wanted a face to face meeting for me to explain my plan and ambitions for Catalan. He asked me to meet him in the early spring of 2014 at a health spa in a small Swiss village outside of Zurich. I have to admit the drive from Zurich to this little village tucked within the Swiss mountains still remains one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. The spring sun had begun to melt the snow on the mountains and in the distance; you could see the melting snow turn into giant waterfalls pouring off the mountains. It was like an oil painting come to life.
I eventually met with my mentor and after explaining my idea to him and that him being on my advisory board would not only give my burgeoning company credibility but help us raise cash, he agreed in totality and went further to tell me that I should tell anyone and everyone that he was not only on board but was going to give our company his full support. We drank some tea together and the next morning I was off back to London. My little plan for Africa oil & gas was coming together, finally put into action by two African men in a Swiss village. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
On the plane flying back to London from Zurich, even though I had just gotten my mentor on board, I felt that there was someone missing. A few years prior, I was the spearhead of my family’s acquisition drive for OML 30 (this is another whole story in itself), one of Shell Nigeria’s most lucrative oil blocks that was up for sale, I met a brilliant English banker named Edgar. Edgar had more than 30 years of oil & gas operations and finance experience. He was respected by the industry on a global basis and having him on board would be the final piece in the puzzle, the icing on the cake. I called Edgar immediately I landed and asked if we could meet for lunch, my treat as always.
I pitched Catalan to Edgar and how if we pulled this off it would be the grandest of coups. Edgar was highly intrigued but stated that he wanted hard cash upfront from the onset. Whilst the others were all too eager to come on board and make their money via sweat equity or cash incentives when we had a target company in our sights, Edgar wanted to be paid money and a substantial amount before putting pen to paper. I was confused by his behaviour. I told him who the others were that were on Catalan’s advisory board but he wasn’t having it, either he would be paid his princely sum to attach his name to Catalan or no deal. I was 29 at the time and was still head-strong and prideful. How could this guy develop such an attitude? I thought we were friends. I suppose Edgar knew his value and wasn’t going to mortgage it on a promise of monies at a later date. As much as he liked my Trojan Horse idea, he just happened to like money more. I baulked at his request in annoyance. I paid for lunch, told him no way, and stormed off home. This was a big mistake on my part that would rear its ugly head later.
I appointed two of my most trusted confidants as directors in Catalan and with that, the company was set to go. I designed the logo for Catalan – a coat of arms with a cross in the middle. I am after all a devout Catholic and a strong believer in God, so why not have my faith represented on my company logo? I then called my friend Nicolas Lavrov, a web and graphics designer and over the course of a week, we put together a sleek and polished company profile which me, my directors and advisory board began emailing out to interested parties. A few weeks later, I got an email from Richard Kent of Jeffries. Jeffries are an investment bank that work closely with multi-national oil companies (the majors) on the acquisition or divestment of oil & gas assets on a worldwide basis. Richard had gotten a copy of my company profile and wanted to have a meeting. I wore one of my finest suits and hopped into a taxi to his offices in London City.
Richard and I talked extensively about my background and my ambitions for Catalan. I explained to him the type of company we were looking to acquire, ideally an oil & gas company in Europe, preferably operating out of the North Sea with a strong daily production and enough reserves to warrant further investment in development. I also told Richard how much we would be ready to spend for the first acquisition – between USD 50 million and USD 100 million. We would finance our acquisition via reserve based lending and would likely raise cash equity of thirty percent of our purchase price with a Bank raising debt of seventy percent to help the balance of the purchase price. I had described the “goldilocks” company Catalan needed to acquire. With that said, Richard told me to give him some time to find the best deal for Catalan.
A few weeks later Richard called me, “I have the perfect deal for you Paddy!” US oil giant, Chevron, had decided to sell their entire upstream, exploration and production business in the Netherlands and had appointed Jeffries to manage a bid process for the sale of Chevron Netherlands. The sale included their production platforms in the North Sea off the Dutch coast, their office buildings, around a thousand or so native Dutch staff, and their crude and gas pipeline evacuation infrastructure. Even the Chevron coffee and tea mugs were part of the sale. Richard was right, this deal was perfect and the ideal Trojan Horse with which to enter the Africa oil & gas terrain with from Europe. He informed me that this would be a competitive bid against other companies to acquire Chevron but thought that Catalan and I stood a good chance. I told him I was interested and that he should send all the necessary paperwork over. Something within me believed I was going to win this bid and with that in mind, I was going to throw everything at it. If I won this bid, I thought, there would be stories written about me for a long time to come.
Chevron are by nature, prudently selective with which companies they invite to bid. So the fact that Catalan was chosen was a big deal to me. I felt like for once in my 29 years, I wasn’t being judged solely by my last name but for my skill, merits and ability. I got the first bits of information from Chevron on their Netherlands assets and I began putting together a team of hired hands to act as my management team for Catalan’s bid. I appointed Dutch law firm DeBrauw as my lawyers, Canadian firm Canaccord Genuity as my finance managers, RPS Energy as my technical managers, and Moore Stephens as my accountants. I informed Chevron of my management team and they asked for a few weeks to open the data room and kick off the bid.
Whilst Catalan and its hired management team waited on Chevron, I decided to be pro-active. From previous my experience with OML 30, not engaging government regulators enough could prove to be unwise. I decided that I needed to meet with the government body in the Netherlands responsible for managing their oil & gas affairs. After all I was a young Nigerian man, trying to buy prized, national Dutch assets. I, more than anyone, needed to be ten steps ahead at any given time. My lawyers put me in touch with Jan-Dirk Bokhoven, the managing director at the time of the Dutch state-owned oil company, EBN. Jan-Dirk and I spoke on the phone and agreed a date to meet at EBN’s head office in Utrecht, a one-hour drive or so outside of Amsterdam.
I had never been to the Netherlands before. I took the first flight from London to Amsterdam and arrived a little after 7 am. The hotel sent a car to pick me and on my ride into Amsterdam the most fascinating thing I saw was that the Dutch rode bicycles everywhere. When parents take their kids to school, they pop them onto the back of a bike and ride on. I had never seen an entire city on bicycles. It was like something out of the twilight zone. A few hours later I changed and drove to Utrecht on a warm and sunny morning. The ride to Utrecht was stunning. The skies were a picturesque baby blue and there wasn’t a cloud in sight. On either side of the motorway there were golden fields of farmland and further beyond, wind turbines spun in synchronicity. The view was so special to me that I asked the driver to stop on the side of the motorway so that I could get out and appreciate the scenery for fifteen minutes or so. The driver thought I was odd.
I finally met Jan-Dirk at his offices with his head of operations, Thijs. I could see in both their faces, looks of confusion and reverence at the same time. How could a 29-year-old Nigerian have found himself in a position to buy Chevron’s business in the Netherlands? I told Jan-Dirk and Thijs of my intentions and that I took this bid seriously and wanted to make sure that I did everything right in the eyes of not only Chevron but the Dutch government. They both assured me that I was on the right track and that if there was any issue, they would let me know. I spent a few more days in Amsterdam, met up with a few friends, and enjoyed the Dutch nightlife and hospitality. I flew back to London.
Chevron finally opened the data room for the bid and provided all information needed for all companies to put in a bid. I put my team, my directors, and Vance Querio on the task of reviewing all the documents with a request that we have a bid review meeting in a few weeks. Tarica Mpinga of Canaccord Genuity served as the lead of the management team. Tarica called me that the team was ready to present their findings and proposal on the way forward. I went over to Canaccord’s offices and for once saw my team assembled in front of me. Here I was, in my late twenties, in a massive boardroom, with a management team of fifteen people presenting to me. I felt like I had arrived.
While acquiring Chevron Netherlands was mostly for an Africa oil & gas play, Catalan had to deal with the reality of the company’s books, resources, and liabilities. Chevron Netherlands by production was attractive, producing 9000 boepd broken down into 8000 barrels of gas per day and 1000 barrels of crude. The off-shore production facilities were top class, the gas reserves were attractive with ample room for development to increase production numbers, the management team of Chevron Netherlands were the best the industry could employ, and the crude and gas evacuation infrastructure and sales contracts were solid. The Catalan management team presented me the bad news. The oil reserves were seen as weak and having very little production life even if new wells were drilled. The biggest problem, however, was the abandonment liability which had been projected at first glance to be in the USD 300 million region. This became the thorn in the flesh of entire bid process. Essentially the Dutch government required all operators to restore their areas of operation back to how nature intended – which meant all infrastructure had to be removed at the end of production. The cost of this is what is termed “abandonment liability” or “abandex”. Catalan’s management team felt that because the abandex was so high, it negated an aggressive bid price and moreover Catalan would struggle to raise cash to pay for Chevron Netherlands.
Unperturbed, I corralled my management team on a road show. We would meet with as many Banks, investors, and oil trading companies as possible to pitch Catalan’s bid and Africa strategy for Chevron Netherlands. The team and I spent countless hours in meeting after meeting but to no avail. The abandex amount and weak oil reserves of Chevron Netherlands were too significant that it blinded people from the Africa strategy entirely. Alas, it was clear that this would have to be a cash deal with no bank debt or oil trading dollars. Despondent, I called my mentor for a way forward. We spoke extensively and as I expected, he was the only one that saw how important Chevron Netherlands would be as a technical partner-operator in Africa. We agreed that between myself as a small cash contributor, himself, and a few other investors we could raise cash of USD 50 million as a maximum bid price. That night I went back to that bar not far from my house and ordered an even stronger drink. This bid could not slip away from me.
Chevron sent an email to Catalan advising when they expected bids to be received. The Catalan team once again huddled in Canaccord’s offices to work on a bid submission document, which would include Catalan’s offer and bid price. We deliberated for hours and the management team insisted that because of the high abandex amount that no cash should be offered. Essentially Catalan would agree to absorb the entire abandex amount and would pay a notional “$1” for the company. This would be a liability absorbing deal, allowing Chevron to clean out and move on. The team advised that Catalan put in this offer but as a way to play hard to get, we would commit to the gas abandex but stay quiet on the oil abandex. I was convinced at that moment that we would have the winning bid. The team prepared all the necessary paperwork, which I signed, and hand delivered to Jeffries offices to the manager of the bid process. After submitting the bid documents, I went to my church, St. Mary’s. I always like going to church when there is absolutely no one there. I prayed for God’s blessings and good graces.
Jeffries and Chevron confirmed they had received Catalan’s bid and would need two weeks or so to review all bids and come back with an answer. In the meantime, I gave a break to my management team and spent all my free time now on my kung fu training with my master, Shifu Heng-Wei. Kung Fu was not only for my fitness but for my well-being and spiritual balance. It was my greatest stress-relief. On a Tuesday afternoon, whilst Shifu and I were in the middle of an intense kung fu session, my phone rang. I knew it was about Chevron. One of Richard Kent’s deputies was on the line. Chevron had reviewed my bid and were “confused” on my position in respect to the oil abandex and wanted a re-submission clarifying Catalan’s position on both oil and gas abandex. I immediately re-convened my management team at the boardroom and began debating our response to Chevron. I saw this as a second chance opportunity from Chevron to submit a more aggressive bid. My management team argued that I should keep the same bid and state now clearly that Catalan wanted nothing to do with the oil abandex. I countered that we needed to be aggressive and should take the entire abandex and offer cash of USD 50 million so that we could acquire Chevron Netherlands uncontested and plough quickly to our Africa strategy.
The Catalan management team thought I was crazy. Surely, I was 29 and now undeniably stupid. How could I look at that enormity of an abandex amount and now want to offer hard-earned cash on top of that? They believed I was frequenting my local bar too often and having one too many drinks. They pleaded with me that I follow their proposal. We argued further and eventually as a compromise, we agreed that we would take all of Chevron Netherlands oil & gas abandex but would still offer a notional $1 bid price. In my heart of hearts, I felt that a cash offer was needed to win but my management team, for which I had paid a respectable amount for their services, had convinced me otherwise. They were professionals I thought and they had my best interest at heart. The team printed out the documents for which I appended my signature and re-submitted. Again, I went to my church, when there wasn’t a soul in sight and prayed to God for his guidance and blessings.
Chevron confirmed that they had received Catalan’s revised bid document and would need another 2 weeks to come back to me on whether we won the bid or not. One night as I stayed up watching CNN at home, I had another idea. If I was able to find out whom the other bidders were for Chevron Netherlands, I could coerce these bidders to drop their respective bids and join me in a new multi-bidder venture. With this, Chevron would have no choice but to sell Chevron Netherlands to Catalan and the other bidders in a new joint venture (JV) company. This was to be my insurance policy in case Catalan’s solo bid failed. As I said, I am the underdog here by a country mile; I always had to be ten steps ahead of everybody else. I arranged a conference call with my management team and charged them to find out who the other bidders were for Chevron Netherlands. I also pulled out my diary and began making phone calls. At this point I didn’t care what the rules were, this was business – either hunt or be hunted and I believed Catalan led by me, was an apex predator, even if Chevron was one trillion times bigger than Catalan. Fortune favours the bold and I fancied this as David versus Goliath.
One by one, Catalan began finding out who the other bidders were. Mercuria, an oil trading company I had done business were in the running but then pulled out. Dana Petroleum looked at the assets but were also out of the running. Tullow Oil was also out of the bid out of the fear of the abandex costs. I scheduled another call with my team and asked everyone to re-double their efforts to find active bidders. The clock was ticking and I was keen to find the other bidders before Chevron replied to my bid. I was too late. However, on a Friday afternoon in early summer of 2014, whilst I was out drinking rose wine with friends at the Arts Club in London, I got an email from Chevron. They had rejected Catalan’s bid and had deemed our bid unsuccessful. I felt like sinking into the ground. I hastily said goodbye to my worried friends and ran home. I couldn’t believe it. How could Chevron say no to me? This bid was destined for me to win. I was meant to be the Alexander the Great of Africa oil & gas and barely into my thirties.
All weekend, I re-traced my steps. I called my management team, my directors, my advisory board, and my mentor to understand where we went wrong. Vance Querio told me that it looked like I had fallen in love with Chevron Netherlands and it was time to walk away. I said no way, I was too deep in love and I couldn’t turn back now. I made up my mind that I was going to find the remaining active bidders, coax them into joining me, and leave Chevron with no choice. I called my management team for a meeting on Monday and they were soundly reassured that I was mad. The game was up and here I was, trying to bring back life to Catalan after a deathblow. The show was not over and we were going to be victorious. I left the meeting with a sense of purpose. That night I went on a dinner date and bumped into an older friend of mine, Remi. I had always looked up to Remi. Remi is smart, successful, and highly intelligent. I felt like him and I were very much the same person and that he was me, just twenty or so years down the road. Remi asked me what I was up to with work and why I wasn’t in Lagos running the family business. I coyly changed topics as I didn’t want any Nigerians knowing what I was up to, certainly no one in “high society” or the political elite. Even though Remi was a great guy, I couldn’t take the risk. Chevron Netherlands was my Trojan Horse and it was on a strictly need to know basis. We will get back to Remi later.
The next day I called Jan-Dirk of EBN and told him that I was going to make a USD 50 million re-bid for Chevron Netherlands but this time I wanted to do so with the other bidders as part of a JV. I was going to use all the cash I had agreed with my mentor to go for one final strike. Jan-Dirk at first was unsure that this was possible but when he heard my sense of urgency and willingness to put down cash, he invited me to back to his offices in Utrecht and felt there could be a solution. The next morning, I dashed off to the airport and flew back to Amsterdam. I landed early as I usually do and by this time I had gotten used to the city being on bicycles. I remember pulling up to a red light and seeing twin Dutch toddlers on the back of their mother’s bike waving at me. These Dutch and their bicycles.
I met with Jan-Dirk again and this time he was more forthright and eager to help out. He then dropped a few bombshells on me. First off, EBN, the Dutch state oil company, were an active bidder for Chevron Netherlands and were specifically interested in the oil side. I was shocked. The second bombshell was that they had put in a joint bid with an indigenous Dutch oil & gas producer called Oranje-Nassau Energy (ONE). Thirdly, EBN knew that apart from itself, Catalan and ONE, there was one more active bidder that wasn’t European or African for that matter but had no leads. Jan-Dirk pledged that EBN would join my new JV but that I had to meet the Chairman of ONE, Marcel, to get his buy in. In my presence, Jan-Dirk called Marcel and arranged a lunch meeting in London with Marcel and the managing director of ONE, Alex.
Back in London, I met with Marcel and Alex at a prestigious members club that both Marcel and I were members of. Marcel and I hit it off very well and found that we had a lot of mutual interests, more so he knew my mentor and on the strength of that would be happy to enter into a JV with Catalan and EBN. However, Alex, was slightly reticent. Alex, it seemed wasn’t too pleased that I was charming his Chairman right before him and wanted to put the brakes on this budding bromance. If he wasn’t careful this young Nigerian could even end up taking his job if this JV worked out. It then became a battle for control now between Alex and I on the fate of the JV. Alex proposed that the Catalan management team meet EBN and ONE at ONE’s offices in Amsterdam the following week to discuss the structure of this new JV and how we would formally propose to Chevron that we wanted to bid together for Chevron Netherlands. I agreed to this meeting. I would come with full force.
The following week, the Catalan team and I arrived in Amsterdam. I ensured that we arrived in style. I had the hotel arrange for five, brand new, jet-black Mercedes s-classes to ferry the Catalan management team to ONE’s offices. I wanted Marcel and Alex to know that we meant business and this wasn’t a Mickey Mouse affair. Marcel and Alex received us at the entrance of their offices. We certainly made an impression, it looked more like a state delegation had just arrived at ONE’s offices, ready to discuss oil & gas diplomacy.
We were taken up to their main conference room where we were introduced to the rest of ONE’s management team. Our meeting was to discuss two major points. First, if the JV was to be successful, how would we carve out the Chevron Netherlands empire? Secondly, if we were to agree to the first point, how would we approach Chevron and manage the bid process? The meeting became slightly contentious. EBN did not attend the meeting and didn’t need to. They made it clear that they were focused on the oil side of Chevron Netherlands and would only come in for the oil. ONE was also no small fry, they produced 60,000 barrels of crude and gas a day from their assets in the Netherlands and worldwide. They were not only keen on the gas coming from Chevron Netherlands but wanted operational control. This would leave Catalan as a mere financier/investor with no management control.
Tensions were flaring with no headway being made. I looked at Marcel and knew that he and I were both frustrated. I motioned to him for us to meet outside the conference room. Marcel waved to Alex to join us and I asked Tarica to step outside with me. The four of us walked over to Alex’s office for a man-to-man resolution meeting. I made it clear to Marcel and Alex that Catalan’s main objective was to use Chevron Netherlands as an Africa operator and would make our fortune from “selling” our technical know-how to wealthy, local investors in oil-rich producing nations with Angola and Equatorial Guinea as prime targets followed by Nigeria. However, Catalan would need to have management control of Chevron Netherlands as we know potential African partners would want to see the Afro side of an Afro-European oil company in control. Marcel agreed and Tarica re-emphasised my point. Alex, however, was keen for ONE to be an active player on the gas side as they saw the gas production and potential as the key driver for being involved in the first place. We agreed that Catalan would have management control but would let ONE drive the gas affairs in the JV with EBN doing the same for the oil. The empire had been carved. Lastly, we agreed that we would write a joint letter to Chevron notifying them of our intent to form a JV and permission to submit a joint bid for Chevron Netherlands. The four of us walked back into the main meeting and marshalled out the next steps to our respective teams. Marcel saw me off and we both felt like we were on the verge of something great. I spent a few more days in Amsterdam and revelled in the Dutch nightlife. I even bought a bicycle. On one fine Amsterdam afternoon, as I rode my bike through town, I thought to myself, “I am about to be a Nigerian Dutchman”.
When I arrived off the plane from Amsterdam to London, I got a rather unnerving email from Alex of ONE. He was back to that power-playing game of his again which was becoming highly frustrating. Alex had written me stating that before EBN and ONE would agree to write a JV letter to Chevron they needed to see financial statements from Catalan, a substantial amount of money had to be put in an escrow account, and he listed another laundry list of conditions precedent (CP). I was surprised he didn’t ask for my birth certificate and my mother’s driving license. I thought to myself “Na wa o, this Alex bobo really has it out for me.” Alex had done this largely to checkmate me and show that he was the authority on the JV. It was all well and good for his billionaire Chairman, Marcel to say he was okay with it, but it was Alex that was responsible for managing the JV and not some young upstart. On the taxi ride back home, I thought to myself, it would take too long for Catalan to meet all of Alex’s CP’s and in that time Chevron could have announced a winner as I was well aware that there was another bidder still out there that we didn’t know of. Also, Alex was effectively making Catalan bid for ONE’s partnership. He would make Catalan sweat to earn partnership rights with ONE and EBN and then we would sweat further to convince Chevron of our JV. I decided this was a dangerous road to go down and I would not cave into Alex’s demands. If there was anything I excelled at in military academy two decades before, it was in military strategy and tactics. I was going to put all my training and knowledge to teach this Alex fellow a lesson. ONE and EBN were going to sign that letter I told myself. They simply had no choice.
I devised a plan, which I fine-tuned with the other two directors of Catalan. I made sure not to discuss the plan with Catalan’s management team for fear that it could leak out. The Catalan directors agreed that for our plan to be successful, I, in particular, would have to eat humble pie. I had to reach out to Edgar and I’d also have to pay that princely sum of his. In addition to Edgar, I needed to get French banker, Guillaume Leenhardt on board. Guillaume, I had known since I was 13 years old and I’d come to find out that he was a close friend of Marcel. I met with Edgar for a steak dinner. I swallowed my pride and apologised profusely for our last meeting that didn’t go so well. I told Edgar that I wanted him on my team now on a full-time basis. Edgar knew he was needed now more than ever and cheekily asked for twice the amount he had originally requested for. This was no longer a princely sum but a king’s ransom. I did the math. It was worth it. I called my Bankers and made sure Edgar was paid. That was the first chess move. I called Guillaume and he just happened to be in London. He asked me to meet him in Hyde Park by the serpentine lake. I arrived at the lake and saw Guillaume sitting on a bench, feeding bread to ducks. It was like something out of a spy movie. I briefed Guillaume on the whole Chevron Netherlands saga and he was impressed to say the least, “You’re as ambitious and as crazy as your father… I like it!” With that said Guillaume was on board. More chess moves. My plan for Alex was now set in motion, it was a mixture of “good cop-bad cop” and what Yoruba’s from Nigeria call “Ogbon agba”, loosely translated to “An old man’s wisdom”.
I emailed Alex, copying Marcel and key members of ONE, EBN, and Catalan’s management team. I wrote that Catalan was no longer interested in partnering with ONE and EBN. I reminded them that Catalan was invited to bid by Chevron and Jeffries because of our cash raising ability. Alex’s list of CP’s was a slap in the face to Catalan and had personally offended me and my mentor. In the same email, I instructed the Catalan management team to cease all communication with ONE and EBN. The email was a tsunami. ONE and EBN couldn’t believe that they had just been dumped. Imagine telling the prettiest girl in school that you were planning to take her to the prom, she thought she had you wrapped around her finger, and then in one ninja move, you tell her you are no longer interested. This dejection is what Alex and co. were now feeling. How could ONE and EBN be told to bog off and most of all by this small boy? It put them in a state of cataclysmic shock. Bad cop. I then called Edgar and Guillaume that I had to write such a nuclear bomb of an email because my mentor and investors were unhappy that ONE was trying to shift the goal post. I asked Edgar to reach out to Alex and the ONE management team since he knew them well to speak some sense to them, stating that I wanted to partner with them but that my mentor and investors were the ones holding me back, that they were about to lose out on a fruitful partnership. I then reached out to Guillaume to do the same with Marcel. Good cop. More chess moves. A week went by. The Catalan team, still bewildered, called me to reverse the decision in my email, pleading with me that my stance was suicidal. I refused to budge. Edgar was making progress with Alex. Alex began to feel that this whole mess was now his fault and didn’t want to look bad in front of his organisation and EBN. He caved in and with his contrition, EBN were on board. It was now left for Marcel to give the final green light. Marcel was enjoying a cruise on the Greek seas on his lovely yacht and was a little hard to reach. Guillaume finally reached him. Marcel agreed. Checkmate. Ogbon agba!
I drafted the JV letter to send to Chevron. The reward for my victory. I emailed it out to ONE and EBN. One hour later the letter was sent back to me with their signatures. I signed the letter and then forwarded it via email to Chevron and Jeffries with the Catalan management team in copy. Tarica called me and wondered how I’d pulled off such a coup. I told him they don’t teach such at Harvard Business School, that this was native Nigerian business sense. We both laughed. Chevron, on the other hand, wasn’t laughing. In the words of Jeffries, “Catalan was taking over the bid process”. Chevron now knew that it wouldn’t be too long before the last bidder was found and coerced into the Catalan-led JV. Chevron is one of the wealthiest companies in the world and also one of the smartest. They made a few chess moves of their own. They decided to stall and told the JV through Jeffries that they needed some time to consider our proposal. They would cleverly use this time to tidy up the bid with the last, final bidder. A week passed by and I knew this was a race against time between Catalan and Chevron. If Catalan found this last bidder the game was up and Chevron would have to cede Chevron Netherlands to the Catalan-led JV. Chevron for their own part, needed to wrap things up with the last bidder because if not, they would have been outfoxed by Catalan and might end up having to sell Chevron Netherlands for a much smaller sale price. Worst still, there was no way they would lose their Dutch empire to me of all people.
I called both Edgar and Guillaume, asking them to use all their contacts and resources to find the last bidder. I arranged a conference call between Catalan, ONE, and EBN with a clear order to find the last bidder and that once we found them, the bid was ours for the taking. During my time in the family business, as a director in the upstream oil & gas business, I had a close working relationship with Chevron Nigeria and knew its managing director. I dug deep into my email and found emails years back between Chevron’s senior management based in Houston and I. I reached out to the Chevron Houston team and went into full salesmanship. The Catalan-led JV was well suited to buy Chevron Netherlands. We were a mix of cash (Catalan), operational experience (ONE), and government-state backing (EBN). There was no better group to sell to. Chevron Houston asked for time to consider. Guillaume had come up with no leads but Edgar had, the king’s ransom I paid for his services was showing dividend. Edgar had gotten in touch with Martin Lovegrove, a senior adviser to the global CEO of Chevron. Martin informed Edgar, that the Chevron global deal team sitting at headquarters in California – Chevron San Ramon, were debating what to do. It was becoming an internal debate between Chevron Houston and Chevron San Ramon on whether to conclude with the last bidder or pivot to the Catalan-led JV. I waited on the outcome. My 30th birthday was on June 21, 2014. I had planned a big comic book inspired costume party to ring in my special day but I cancelled all those plans. I felt Chevron Netherlands was slipping away from me and this was not the time to celebrate anything.
On July 14, 2014, I received a letter from Chevron. They had made up their mind. Chevron San Ramon had their way. There was to be no room for the Catalan-led JV and they were concluding the sale of Chevron Netherlands imminently. To say I was devastated wouldn’t capture how low and defeated I felt. Chevron Netherlands was destined to be mine. I was going to ride back into Africa on my Trojan Horse and become King. I had given every part of me, every fibre of my being and it was immeasurably painful to come so close to victory and lose. ONE and EBN wrote to Catalan formally withdrawing their participation in Chevron Netherlands. They had sailed off into the North Sea sunset. I stubbornly refused to give up and wrote another letter to Chevron that Catalan would be prepared to pay up to USD 100 million for Chevron Netherlands. Frankly, I didn’t know where I was going to find the money but I was throwing one last shot out there when in actuality it was no more than medicine after death. A few days after my last pitch letter, Richard Kent sent me an email; Chevron Netherlands had been sold to Petrogas of Oman. The last bidder, the mystery company I couldn’t find. I’d later come to find out that USD 50 million plus an absorption of all the abandex was the winning formula for the bid – the same formula that I had proposed to my management team but they had pushed back on. This was a painful lesson to always trust my instincts, no matter the circumstance. Edgar later told me that if I had brought him on from day one, the first question he would have asked me was, “What amount are you willing to pay for Chevron Netherlands, given what you wanted to use it for in Africa?” I told Edgar that the price I would have paid was USD 50 million. I should have paid Edgar his princely sum the first-time round, never again would I let ego or pride cloud my judgement.
Members of the Chevron team in London called me. They congratulated me on a well-fought bid and marvelled at my ability to push them so hard in their own bid process. Richard Kent of Jeffries took me out for a drink. He told me I was the type of bidder he liked working with, tenacious and aggressive. Richard wanted to know if I was interested in another bid, something was coming up in Italy. I told Richard I was done. I looked finished. I said goodbye to the Catalan team and paid their fees. Tarica took me out for a meal, trying to encourage me. We joked about how legendary this bid was and how I had brought back Catalan’s quest to life on multiple occasions when all seemed lost. This was all consolation. I thought, no one remembers the 1st runner up, second place is just not first place. My mentor called me and told me not to be hard on myself, that this was all a learning process and that it would shape me for further battles in the future. I agreed with him but nothing could make up for my loss.
Whilst I lay in bed that night, one of my closest confidants nicknamed Heisenberg and a director in Catalan called me. I remember our conversation like it was yesterday. Heisenberg said, “ Mr P, how many people are given the opportunity you had at 29 to buy Chevron Netherlands? How many Nigerians can ever say they were in a competitive bid to buy an oil & gas company in Europe and almost won? How many young men at your age with the same background, simply settle for less? But you went out into the real world and fought hard and fought valiantly. You got one of the largest indigenous Dutch oil companies and the Dutch state-run oil company to partner with you. You might have lost but you won. Take this as a privilege and that God himself is shaping you into a Man and not just any Man.” He was right and I agreed. Heisenberg advised that I head off to the one place that always rejuvenates my soul… Los Angeles. I got up out of bed, walked down into my study, went online and bought a ticket for the next morning’s flight to Los Angeles. I would go away for two months.
I arrived in Los Angeles half a day later. I sat in my apartment for the first two days. I barely ate and just stared into nothing. This was the cathartic process to get over my loss. Then I got into my car and drove to Malibu. There is nothing more peaceful than a scenic drive down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). The Pacific Ocean waters out to infinity on your left and there are cliffs, bluffs, and stunning mountains to your right. The California sun in all its warmth shines down and that good Cali fever infects your soul. This was Californication at its finest. I enjoyed my two months in Los Angeles. I partied hard, went to the Drake vs. Lil Wayne concert at the Hollywood Bowl, sat courtside and watched Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers play a good game, ate well and one night dined at BOA steakhouse on Sunset – at the table in front of me was an orange haired business man named Donald Trump, if only I had a crystal ball then. I went to Disneyworld and had a blast. California had healed me. I was okay again. I thanked God not only for the opportunity and the experience but also for blessing me with a good life. He had taught me some valuable lessons and helped me discover new parts of myself I didn’t know existed. Heisenberg was right, I was becoming a Man in the true sense of the word.
A year later, I moved back to Lagos for a few months to be closer to my family and to take a break from work. A South African company, HKLM that had helped my father design the logo for his telecoms company were in Lagos doing some further design work for my father. My father always uses a bull as his personal insignia and it had become synonymous with him. Gary Harwood of HKLM asked me if I wanted my father’s bull insignia adorned on any clothing or stationery. I told Gary that I wasn’t a bull and that my father was “the bull”. Gary countered and said, “Well Paddy if you are not a bull, then what are you?” I paused for a moment, thinking. My mother was born on August 2nd, 1950; she is a Leo by star sign. Leo’s are lions and I was my mother’s lion son, her Simba. I told Gary, “I am a Lion. I always have been and always will be.” Two weeks later Gary sent me a design of my own personal insignia, it was a Lion’s head. We made a few tweaks to make the Lion look more intimidating yet regal and Gary sent me the final design. In a very clever and touching way, Gary and his team had woven some of my facial features into the design of the Lion’s face. This Lion no matter who might see it or who might copy it would have me staring right back at them. I thanked him for a wonderful present.
I called Remi and told him that I was back in Lagos. He invited me over to his palatial and modern home. He liked my Lion’s head insignia that I had stitched onto the pocket of my native Nigerian kaftan. We sat down for hours and talked business and politics. Then Remi asked me what was I doing in London all that time, away from the family business. I was happy to tell him about Chevron Netherlands at this point, the deal was done and over. Remi looked at me in astonishment, “You mean you took on a whole Chevron, with no noise, no fanfare and none of us knew? Ahh bros you try!” We laughed it off. Remi then revealed the biggest bombshell of my Chevron Netherlands adventure. The managing director of Petrogas of Oman was a close friend of his and he knew he was bidding for Chevron Netherlands at the time. If I had told him what I was up to when we saw in London, whilst I was searching for the last bidder, he would have introduced us. I was blown away. There it was that whole time. That mystery last bidder that I had searched so hard for was there for my taking and it passed right by me.
I went back home that night and made myself the strongest drink. History couldn’t tell this story. I would have to.
Author: Paddy Adenuga
This article was first published on theafricaarchive.com