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 balked 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 7am. 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 farm land 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.