I drafted the JV letter to send to Chevron. The reward for my victory. I emailed it out to ONE and EBN. One hour later the letter was sent back to me with their signatures. I signed the letter and then forwarded it via email to Chevron and Jeffries with the Catalan management team in copy. Tarica called me and wondered how I’d pulled off such a coup. I told him they don’t teach such at Harvard Business School, that this was native Nigerian business sense. We both laughed. Chevron on the other hand wasn’t laughing. In the words of Jeffries, “Catalan was taking over the bid process”. Chevron now knew that it wouldn’t be too long before the last bidder was found and coerced into the Catalan-led JV. Chevron is one of the wealthiest companies in the world and also one of the smartest. They made a few chess moves of their own. They decided to stall and told the JV through Jeffries that they needed some time to consider our proposal. They would cleverly use this time to tidy up the bid with the last, final bidder. A week passed by and I knew this was a race against time between Catalan and Chevron. If Catalan found this last bidder the game was up and Chevron would have to cede Chevron Netherlands to the Catalan-led JV. Chevron for their own part, needed to wrap things up with the last bidder because if not, they would have been outfoxed by Catalan and might end up having to sell Chevron Netherlands for a much smaller sale price. Worst still, there was no way they would lose their Dutch empire to me of all people.
I called both Edgar and Guillaume, asking them to use all their contacts and resources to find the last bidder. I arranged a conference call between Catalan, ONE, and EBN with a clear order to find the last bidder and that once we found them, the bid was ours for the taking. During my time in the family business, as a director in the upstream oil & gas business, I had a close working relationship with Chevron Nigeria and knew its managing director. I dug deep into my email and found emails years back between Chevron’s senior management based in Houston and I. I reached out to the Chevron Houston team and went into full salesmanship. The Catalan-led JV was well suited to buy Chevron Netherlands. We were a mix of cash (Catalan), operational experience (ONE), and government-state backing (EBN). There was no better group to sell to. Chevron Houston asked for time to consider. Guillaume had come up with no leads but Edgar had, the kings ransom I paid for his services was showing dividend. Edgar had gotten in touch with Martin Lovegrove, a senior adviser to the global CEO of Chevron. Martin informed Edgar, that the Chevron global deal team sitting at headquarters in California – Chevron San Ramon, were debating what to do. It was becoming an internal debate between Chevron Houston and Chevron San Ramon on whether to conclude with the last bidder or pivot to the Catalan-led JV. I waited on the outcome. My 30th birthday was on June 21, 2014. I had planned a big comic book inspired costume party to ring in my special day but I cancelled all those plans. I felt Chevron Netherlands was slipping away from me and this was not the time to celebrate anything.
On July 14, 2014, I received a letter from Chevron. They had made up their mind. Chevron San Ramon had their way. There was to be no room for the Catalan-led JV and they were concluding the sale of Chevron Netherlands imminently. To say I was devastated wouldn’t capture how low and defeated I felt. Chevron Netherlands was destined to be mine. I was going to ride back into Africa on my Trojan Horse and become King. I had given every part of me, every fibre of my being and it was immeasurably painful to come so close to victory and lose. ONE and EBN wrote to Catalan formally withdrawing their participation in Chevron Netherlands. They had sailed off into the North Sea sunset. I stubbornly refused to give up and wrote another letter to Chevron that Catalan would be prepared to pay up to USD 100 million for Chevron Netherlands. Frankly, I didn’t know where I was going to find the money but I was throwing one last shot out there when in actuality it was no more than medicine after death. A few days after my last pitch letter, Richard Kent sent me an email; Chevron Netherlands had been sold to Petrogas of Oman. The last bidder, the mystery company I couldn’t find. I’d later come to find out that USD 50 million plus an absorption of all the abandex was the winning formula for the bid – the same formula that I had proposed to my management team but they had pushed back on. This was a painful lesson to always trust my instincts, no matter the circumstance. Edgar later told me that if I had brought him on from day one, the first question he would have asked me was, “What amount are you willing to pay for Chevron Netherlands, given what you wanted to use it for in Africa?” I told Edgar that the price I would have paid was USD 50 million. I should have paid Edgar his princely sum the first-time round, never again would I let ego or pride cloud my judgement.
Members of the Chevron team in London called me. They congratulated me on a well-fought bid and marvelled at my ability to push them so hard in their own bid process. Richard Kent of Jeffries took me out for a drink. He told me I was the type of bidder he liked working with, tenacious and aggressive. Richard wanted to know if I was interested in another bid, something was coming up in Italy. I told Richard I was done. I looked finished. I said goodbye to the Catalan team and paid their fees. Tarica took me out for a meal, trying to encourage me. We joked about how legendary this bid was and how I had brought back Catalan’s quest to life on multiple occasions when all seemed lost. This was all consolation. I thought, no one remembers the 1st runner up, second place is just not first place. My mentor called me and told not me not to be hard on myself, that this was all a learning process and that it would shape me for further battles in the future. I agreed with him but nothing could make up for my loss.
Whilst I lay in bed that night, one of my closest confidants nicknamed Heisenberg and a director in Catalan called me. I remember our conversation like it was yesterday. Heisenberg said, “Mr. P, how many people are given the opportunity you had at 29 to buy Chevron Netherlands? How many Nigerians can ever say they were in a competitive bid to buy an oil & gas company in Europe and almost won? How many young men at your age with the same background, simply settle for less? But you went out into the real world and fought hard and fought valiantly. You got one of the largest indigenous Dutch oil companies and the Dutch state-run oil company to partner with you. You might have lost but you won. Take this as a privilege and that God himself is shaping you into a Man and not just any Man.” He was right and I agreed. Heisenberg advised that I head off to the one place that always rejuvenates my soul… Los Angeles. I got up out of bed, walked down into my study, went online and bought a ticket for the next morning’s flight to Los Angeles. I would go away for two months.