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.