Takeaways From Paddy Adenuga’s Trojan Gambit for Chevron Netherlands




By ‘Tope Fasua

I met Paddy Adenuga around the year 2000. It wasn’t long after I joined Equitorial Trust Bank as a business manager and head of marketing at the Ikeja Branch, and he had come for internship. He was still a teenager then. Incredibly handsome, he was also very respectful to all and sundry. We sort of hit it off; became pals of sort. And then he was off. I would meet him by chance somewhere in Abuja several years later, and I believe he still remembered me. We exchanged pleasantries and moved on. Since then, I’ve only seen him in newspapers. The stakes have changed and the interning student is now a big boy. Today Paddy is about 34 years old and has come to his own. He recently wrote a scintillating story about his bid for Chevron Netherlands in his own rights, as a way of making his own name in business. This story has been read by thousands of youth and I just think I should share some takeaways therefrom.

The story is about how Paddy wanted to buy into an international oil company with expertise, which he could then use as a ‘Trojan Horse’ on which to leverage for bigger oil and gas production and exploration contracts in Africa – namely in Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and of course Nigeria. The idea is that such companies have much better expertise, and there is a bias or tendency in Africa to take them more serious. The story chronicles how Paddy strategised, put a team together, networked, and schemed towards the acquisition of Chevron Netherlands, a company which produces 1,000 barrels of crude oil, and 8,000 barrels of gas per day. It is the story of how far a young man – who was 29 at the time of this bid in 2013 – was willing to go to achieve his aim; a story of passion, daring, friendship, betrayals, mentorship, distrust and, of course, money. Loads of it!

Here are my takeaways:

First, Paddy is a damn good writer. He’s one of those people who write from their minds. His writeup was racy, highly-readable, some would say unputdownable. He has a perfect control of the language and his vocabulary is fantastic, reflecting years of solid education in the most expensive institutions around the world. Now, this is very important for a guy like that. Very few people with his monied background bother to write anything. Nigeria is a land of secrets, yet writers are very important in shaping progressive societies. In the development of the United States, for example, as far back of the 1700s, writers shaped the opinion of society. The Federalist Papers, which justified the need for a Federation, are a bunch of 85 articles written in a space of two years by the trio of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. Reading them is like reading any normal weekly article today.

Second, Paddy did great in trying to step away from his father’s shadow. His dad is very reclusive. Different strategies for different ages, perhaps. Meanwhile Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr. also has one of the best masteries of the English language I know, having interacted very briefly with him up close. His vocabulary is out of this world and he deploys it to full effect. Many may not know this about the man, whose sharp edge of the tongue anyone would do good to avoid. He also takes delight in stunning people with his kindness.

Third, Paddy’s story shows that everything starts with a dream. Whereas he has more space to dream as he doesn’t have problems with hunger and desperate survival, still the story tells of how anything that has become real and big starts with the thoughts in one’s head. A guy sits down and asks himself ‘why cant I do this or that?’, gets up and puts it into action. That is what life is about. Many people think big stuff daily but don’t put anything into action. Paddy’s Trojan horse strategy was classic. Not everyone will be able to attend Texas Military Academy, where he learnt ancient Greek history, but the Internet has made everything available today. In the blogs where his story has been shared, many young Nigerians are commenting, some almost falling over themselves with hope. The trick is that the most important step is to START. Things needn’t be perfect from the beginning, but only starters could ever win.

The point is that in order to get what you want, avoid controversies. A nice, innocent-sounding English name, and a logo that bears no religious hangovers may have helped Paddy sail in the beginning with less hassles. Never mix emotions with business. I have a bit of experience pushing my own peanuts businesses abroad.

Fourth, resources are good when you have them. Paddy already had an office in Lagos, and a townhouse in London. He also had one-on-one access to top dogs in the industry, like Vance Querio (then Addax COO), Edgar the banker, Richard Kent of Jeffries the Investment Bankers, with speciality in the oil sector, and loaded mentors. He also has endless access and visas or a foreign passport to go anywhere he wishes. He was ready to deal in large amounts ranging between $50 million and $100 million, plus bank borrowing much larger than that. Ha! This is where our drooling youth of Nigeria must be careful. Very very few people at 29, even at 59, could have access to the volumes of money the guy was ready to transact in. I would advise that rather than jump into debts just to prove that you are a big dreamer, weigh your risks first. Build a foundation. Paddy is aware that if it all went bust – and it did – he has a rich family to run back to. If you don’t have such, be careful. I am saying this to a few Nigerian boys whom I know have borrowed to the hilt and are only waiting for disaster to strike. Many heavy borrowers and big spenders have been known to become paupers.. As for Paddy, these are great leverages he has, even though many children don’t know what to do with theirs. He tried to put his resources to good use. Kudos to him

Fifth, I also detected a few signs of naivety in Paddy’s gambit. Sounds great doesn’t it? Paddy’s gambit. He overestimated the myth that the barriers and costs of doing business in Europe were much lower than in Africa. False. As he later discovered, EPN, the NNPC of The Netherlands, was bidding for the same asset he was bidding for, and surprisingly, EPN was more interested in the 1,000 barrels of crude oil that Chevron produced (which was deemed to be a weak asset), than the gas which had more prospects. This raises red flags. What does EPN know that Paddy didn’t? There was also a hidden bidder – which eventually won. So not everything was transparent. Then there is the choice of his company name – The Catalan Corporation. He may be a supporter of Barcelona FC, where Lionel Messi plays – though he didn’t mention it – he only liked the name he said, but in the business turf this portrays something else. The name conjures Spanish conquistadors. And with a company logo which is a coat of arms with a cross embedded in it, ha! Torquemada is here! Europe has a deep, dark history that isn’t obvious to many of us in Africa as we only focus on colonisation. The Spanish Inquisition is one of such. And because of such history, decisions are taken today either in reward, or revenge. The point is that in order to get what you want, avoid controversies. A nice, innocent-sounding English name, and a logo that bears no religious hangovers may have helped Paddy sail in the beginning with less hassles. Never mix emotions with business. I have a bit of experience pushing my own peanuts businesses abroad. I have seen that unlike us here, where we operate an open sesame, the rest of the world holds their dollar on a tight leash and determine who they give it to – in spite of the pretences to low barriers and transparency. As a matter of fact, nothing goes to foreigners if ever they can avoid it. But here, we deprive locals and favour foreigners, though hopefully things are changing – at least in the oil sector.

Sixth, I hope all readers also researched some of the technical terms used in the article? The young man schooled us in some of the intricacies of the trade. ‘Reserve Based Lending’ for example, means lending against crude oil reserves or the revenue stream from the oil well serving as collateral. Then there is the interesting terminology called “Abandex”. In the particular instance of the asset that Paddy pitched for, the Dutch government required an Abandonment fee of $300 million to be paid by any developer who decides to quit the oil well, in order for the site to be returned to the exact natural state it was initially. Hear him: “Essentially the Dutch government required all operators to restore their areas of operation back to how nature intended – which meant all infrastructure had to be removed at the end of production. The cost of this is what is termed “abandonment liability” or “abandex””. Incredible isn’t it? Imagine buying an asset for say $50 million, or less, and then paying $300 million if you realise the asset is crap! You see how the oyibos protect themselves and their people, their lands and their water? I doubt if we have anything close to this in Nigeria, or if anybody cares. At the negotiating table for this kind of asset in Nigeria, our government people are probably thinking of how they can be structured into the deal, while Nigeria goes to Hell.

Seven, Let me lump up some other takeaways. The banks were not ready to help as usual. When the risk seems high, banks usually back off everywhere. At some point Paddy was high and dry, and would have had to look for the funding from anywhere had he won the bid for Chevron Netherlands. Also, the Euro-Americans are way too smart. They invented the game. They saw how Paddy’s Catalan wanted to absorb the gas “abandex” and leave the oil, even though he was advised to do so by the guys on his side. Were they playing games with Paddy? The guys who advised him should know that the trick would be detected.

Eighth, perhaps the most important lesson in the whole episode happened in the end. Paddy’s story ended in a crescendo. I have now learnt that he’s been a scriptwriter since 15! Anyway, having given his best and spent what in my estimation could be as much as $5 million, if not more (hiring an expensive team, expensive, status travels, membership of prestigious, members-only clubs, acquisition of five jet-black, brand new Mercedes S-Class for a particular meeting, and many likely fees to even get in on the action – I know how those oyibo guys play), Paddy went back to Nigeria deflated, only to discover that his friend in Lagos was on one-on-one friendship terms with the MD of Petrogas Oman, the company that won the bid! He had broached his dream with this friend of his, Remi, but had not elaborated. If he had, perhaps he would have won the bid or be part of a Joint Venture that bought the asset. This tells us that many times, the thing we are looking for in Sokoto, is right in our pockets. (Sokoto). We should never put down little contacts. Even though Remi is also said to be a big boy here, but I’ve seen where drivers, assistants and middle managers provide the information and even introductions that one requires to clinch a deal. For me, I believe a deal stands a better chance of flying if one talks about it – in a strategic way though – with one’s associates than when one keeps it on a hush. Yes, people steal ideas, but no one can work an idea better than the owner of the idea. Indeed when I’m stumped about some of my little transactions (nowhere near the kind of deals that will interest Paddy), I’m known to put out a word to all my friends on Facebook. I’ve tried it many times. There is no contact I want in the world that I cannot get from my 5,000 friends on Facebook and their friends. However, no one has been born who can utilise ALL the opportunities that come their ways, because opportunities are often disguised as challenges – hence unrecognisable or infeasible – or the sheer fact that we cannot be everywhere at the same time. Just get your bit, and move on.

So to the guy that may yet become the “Alexander the Great of African Oil”, as he had hoped, or indeed of any other sector he chooses, I’m glad he has realised the need for one to write their own stories. I identify with such big thinking because that is what I’ve striven to do with our political project, ANRP. Calling people to help has worked for me, and even if I’m no longer on the scene, I believe things will keep moving. I believe that with the daring Paddy has shown, he has won a very important garland; and that is failure. People are afraid of failure, and challenges, but those two elements are very essential for greatness. People who are very afraid of failure and challenges, usually remain mediocre through life.

The entire story reminds me of the 1997 Apple advert, which is a poem of sort, credited to Robert Siltanen

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Dear Paddy… stay crazy…

‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, can be reached through [email protected]

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