The same clear and easy speech patterns, the same smart but conservative suits and that same funny smile – or smirk as his US critics saw it – are all there. This is Tony Hayward, the former boss of BP, who is keen to promote a new oil venture in Iraqi Kurdistan, but also eager to enforce an no-go zone around discussion of last year’s events. “I don’t want to go back to talking about the past, so if you want to go there I am just going to stop. I am not talking about BP. I am not interested in talking about it and I don’t want you writing about it.” So we move on — for now.
Hayward spent his entire career at BP, until the Deepwater Horizon accident cost 11 lives, wiped tens of billions off the value of the business and brought Hayward’s tenure at the top to an abrupt end. In what has become a textbook case of how not to handle a disaster, Hayward made some serious errors: at the height of the furore he quipped that he wanted his “life back” and then nipped to the UK for a spot of sailing in the Solent.
But now his future is focused on the Genel Energy business which he has just bought with financier Nat Rothschild through their Vallares investment vehicle. Genel is as far away from the BP behemoth as it possibly could be. It is a relatively small, but successful, Turkish-based exploration and production company with assets concentrated in the geologically exciting but politically sensitive Kurdish market.
It has also been run, up until now, by a colourful and controversial boss, Mehmet Sepil – who was fined £1m for insider dealing by the FSA City watchdog last year – and partly owned by another Turkish businessman, Mehmet Emin Karamehmet, who is currently appealing against an 11-year jail sentence for embezzlement.
Hayward once again is keen to accentuate the positives – and there are many he can list. “We have a very strong asset base – a top quartile asset base with assets that normally belong in the hands of a super major [such as BP or Shell]. We have an extraordinarily strong platform for growth.
The second thing we have is $2bn in cash on our balance sheet. The third thing we have – I say this with humility – is we have a board and a management team that is a bit bigger than the company we have today.”
“The fourth thing we have which is very important in this region is a Turkish brand. This has an Anglo-Turkish flavour, but fundamentally it’s a Turkish business working at a very interesting time of great change, in the Middle East and the wider region, at a time when Turkey is playing a bigger and bigger role both politically and economically.”
The statistics certainly look impressive. Kurdistan has the fourth-largest crude reserves in the world and a very pro-business government that has overseen GDP growth of 12% annually.
And sitting in a western-style luxury hotel in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil with Hayward, it is easy to see that things are changing fast here. The immediate building is surrounded by high walls and security guards but the surrounding area is one massive building site, with offices and factories being put up at breakneck speed. It is certainly a far cry from present-day Baghdad.
So why did Hayward court more bad headlines by choosing a man recently fined for insider dealing as a new business partner, even if Sepil remains something of a business hero in Turkey and Kurdistan? “You judge a person as you get to know them over a period of time. I actually happen to think that Mehmet is a man of incredible integrity actually,” said Hayward.
The Turkish businessman – who made £267,000 from the illegal dealings – told the FSA that he had made a mistake and had not intended to deceive anyone. His reputation has undoubtedly been tarnished, but Vallares’s coterie of international investors, like Hayward, seems largely unmoved.
There is also political risk in the deal. While Genel is in prime position to exploit its advantageous position in the northern Iraq oil fields, Hayward, with the whole world map to play with, has chosen to get back into the oil business with “risky” production rights that are still disputed by Baghdad.
“The real risk for any geologist is a dry well and what we have here is a place which most exploration geologists would say is the last great onshore oil and gas provinces. There is only one other place, which is potentially off-limits, in north-west Iran.
“The exploration under way here today is directly analogous to what the IOCs [international oil companies] did in the Middle East in Iran, Iraq and Kuwait in the 1960s and 70s.”
Hayward, a grammar school boy from Slough, obviously has the opportunity to get seriously rich, but denied that was what drove him: “I am not motivated by money. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. Yes, I could have sailed away on my boat but I would have been bored with it after six months.
“I have been dabbling with oil and gas since I was a young geologist on a rig in the North Sea. I enjoy it. I was too young to retire. I did have six months off and did different things, like climbing Kilimanjaro. But I knew I wanted to remain in the world of oil and gas.”
After the Deepwater disaster it was not certain how the City would view Hayward and his request for at least £1bn of financial backing — even when he teamed up with a high-achieving member of the Rothschild family. “It’s an interesting thing to ask people for money. They say ‘what are you going to do with it?’ and you just say trust me. We were obviously very successful.”
So has he set forth on this new venture just to vindicate himself in his own or the eyes or others? “No, it had nothing to do with vindication, it was just something interesting and challenging.”
Genel is due to be listed on the London Stock Exchange on November 22. The prospectus published the day before will outline an ambitious new programme in Kurdistan that will involve doubling oil production from Genel’s current level of 100,000 barrels and building a pipeline from its key Taq Taq field so that global exports can begin via Turkey.
But it will not stop there. Vallares has raised £1.4bn and plans to use a chunk of that cash on other acquisitions and geographical expansion. Hayward admits Libya, Egypt and other traditional oil and gas provinces in North Africa and the Middle East are in his sights.
He aims to expand Genel from a $2bn company into a $4bn-$5bn business within three to five years. It seems that Hayward still has vaulting ambitions.
Eventually I dared ask whether he had learned anything from the gulf episode. “Yes,” he said curtly. “But I am not going to tell you what.”
, conservative suits
, iraqi kurdistan
, nat rothschild
, oil venture
, textbook case
Categories: The Western Press