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!