This is the story of Paddy Adenuga, son of Mike Adenuga, Globacom boss, on how at the age of 29, he tried to acquire one of the biggest oil companies in the world, Chevron Netherlands. Read the story below…
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 with 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.