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 in common, 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.