February 16, 2011

Feb 16 – Adebayo Ogunlesi: High Flyer

Adebayo Ogunlesi

I am awake at ‘ridiculous-o’clock’, today, because I have an early flight. I used to really like traveling – whether for business or pleasure – because of the excitement and glamour of it all. Now, not so much (although I am always happy, once I land and start my adventure or see family). I find that my ‘liquids’ look a bit sad in their Ziploc® bag; and pulling out my laptop, while taking off my coat and shoes requires an athleticism which only a contortionist possesses. Then, of course, is the rather overly-familiar ‘inspection’, you must endure, if you set off the alarm. Nevertheless, there is no other way to reach my destination, so I will smile and bear it.

Gatwick Airport is one of the major airports in London, and the second-largest international airport in the world. It was purchased last year, for approximately $2 billion, by Global Infrastructure Partners, which is a $5.6 billion investment fund, founded by Nigerian businessman, Adebayo Ogunlesi.

Born in December 1953, Bayo, as he is called, was the son of the first Nigerian-born medical professor tenured in his home country, and a schoolteacher. His grandfather was a farmer. Education was always deemed as vital to a successful future, in the Ogunlesi household. Bayo attended the prestigious, King’s College in Lagos, Nigeria; and from there, matriculated to Oxford University, in England, where he earned a first class honors Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He then crossed the Atlantic Ocean to earn a law degree (graduating Magna Cum Laude and having served as editor of the Harvard Law Review) from Harvard Law School and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. After Harvard, Bayo clerked for the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, who affectionately called him ‘Obeedoogee’ because he could not pronounce Bayo’s names very well.

Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall

Bayo’s next move was into private practice with the law firm, Cravath, Swaine and Moore in New York City. In 1983, when he had been working there less than a year, he received a phone call from a Nigerian friend who was working at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. The friend needed a financial adviser for a planned natural gas venture, which was being financed by the investment bank, Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB). He left the law firm to serve a three-month secondment at CSFB, while finalizing the deal.

By this point, the excitement of Wall Street had lured Bayo, and he stayed on at CSFB, rising up the corporate ladder to eventually head of CSFB’s Project Finance Group; adding on the Power Finance Group when it merged with Project Finance. The Oil and Gas Group and Chemicals Group also eventually came under Bayo’s domain, causing his unit to be so large that colleagues dubbed it, ‘The Bayosphere’. One of them even produced T-shirts for the team that said, “I’ve Found Happiness in the Bayosphere”.

Extremely well-liked and well-respected, Bayo was eventually promoted to Managing Director of the Global Energy Group, brokering multimillion dollar deals, with his team; and then Head of the Global Investment Banking Group and CSFB Board member, when he implemented some significant cost-cutting measures to make the division profitable again. Finally, in 2004, he became the Chief Client Officer of the Global Investment Group and was also promoted to Executive Vice-Chairman of CSFB.

Although, Bayo has famously said that “never wanted to be an investment banker”, he clearly has the Midas Touch. Bayo was also the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. Although there were very few people of color, and he faced some racism, he never let it be an impediment.

In 2005, Bayo set up Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), with some CSFB colleagues and some friends/associates from General Electric. He serves as the Chairman and Managing Partner, and the company is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, with additional offices in New York, London and Hong Kong. GIP’s first investment, in 2006, was to purchase London City Airport.  After purchasing Gatwick Airport, Bayo told The Sunday Times, “We love the UK.” GIP is working to significantly improve both airports to make them more competitive and offer a much better experience for travelers and airport staff. Also telling The Sunday Times, “We are determined to transform the passenger experience.”

London City Airport

GIP has a significant investment portfolio around the world, and rumor has it that Bayo is working to create a second fund (click here to see the company’s website). It’s not all work and no play for Bayo, though. He is married to a British-Ghanaian woman, and he has two sons. He is extremely philanthropic and does a lot of volunteer work; and to relax, Bayo reads, collects African art and has recently taken up golf.

Well, I’m off to the airport – hopefully to enjoy some of Bayo’s improvements. Meanwhile, I will be watching his high-flying trajectory with a keen eye. Click here to see a Sky News interview discussing the purchase of Gatwick.

Sources: Wikipedia, Answers.com, TIME, The Sunday Times, Google Images, YouTube


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