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Tony Hayward Gets His Life Back


A version of this article appeared in print on September 2, 2012, on page BU1 of the New York edition

IF there’s a public villain of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — one person who, rightly or not, will be remembered for the deadly blowout, the black slick and all that followed — it’s probably Tony Hayward.

On television screens and in the pages of magazines, bewildered Americans saw oil plumes rising, livelihoods crumbling and seabirds dying in the viscous crude. And for many of them, Mr. Hayward, the man who was running BP, came to personify the catastrophe.

And yet here he is now, looking so cool and relaxed, so unlike the Tony Hayward we know. He’s sitting, open-collar casual, in a comfortable corner office here in Mayfair, not far from his old headquarters at BP.

Could this possibly be that Tony Hayward — the pinched, sweaty chieftain of British Big Oil? The Englishman whom Americans derided as an insensitive buffoon — and whom President Obama said he would have fired? The man who sailed his yacht off the Isle of Wight as the tar balls washed up on the Gulf Coast? Who, in the middle of it all, delivered that crisis-P.R. sound bite from hell: “I’d like my life back.”

Yes, this is that Tony Hayward, looking his elfin, curly haired self and sounding more upbeat than he has in a long time.

Mr. Hayward, it turns out, has his life back.

Two years after being shown the door at BP, in one of the most ignominious corporate exits in recent memory, Mr. Hayward is back in the oil game. Not at an oil major like BP nor, for that matter, in the gulf, where oil rigs and refineries were being tested anew last week, this time by Hurricane Isaac. No, Tony Hayward is hoping to strike it rich in, of all places, the oil fields of northern Iraq.

He has some deep pockets behind him. They include a scion of the Rothschild banking dynasty, a former dealmaker at Goldman Sachs and two Turkish tycoons with a foothold in the wild and wildly contentious world of Iraqi oil. It’s a dangerous game, financially and otherwise. But despite sectarian bombings and political deadlock, Iraq’s crude oil production is soaring. In July, the nation produced more than three million barrels of oil a day, the most in a decade, eclipsing Iran and shaking up the old order in OPEC.

Yet oil has also brought its share of problems in Iraq, breeding corruption and aggravating tensions with the Kurdish minority in the north. And Kurdistan is precisely where Mr. Hayward and his partners are making their play.

The Kurdish region has vast, virtually untapped reserves, and its oil minister is carrying out plans to export oil and gas directly to Turkey, just to the north. But Baghdad’s central government maintains that it alone has the right to negotiate contracts and exports. The rivalry between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, has nerves on edge throughout the region.

“It is a question of sovereignty, not money,” says David L. Goldwyn, who served as special envoy for international energy affairs for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Whatever the risks, oil majors like Chevron and Exxon Mobil are rushing into Kurdistan, too. But Mr. Hayward isn’t running an oil giant like BP anymore. He’s running an oil pipsqueak. From his offices here on Grafton Street, he leads a company called Genel Energy. It is hardly a household name. On the London stock market, the company is currently worth about $3 billion. BP, known the world over is worth about 44 times that.

Yet for Mr. Hayward, Genel is more than a business opportunity. It is also a shot at redemption — a venture that, if it succeeds, could help bind up the psychic wounds of the gulf spill. Whatever his reputation in the United States, Mr. Hayward is regarded by many in the British business community as a solid C.E.O. who was dealt a bad hand. Many here insist that he was unfairly criticized, by Mr. Obama on down, for an environmental disaster that no one could have foreseen or prevented.

Whatever the case, Mr. Hayward declines to discuss the spill publicly. Friends and business associates say privately that he remains embittered by how he was vilified and then pushed out at BP.

He hardly comes across as angry. To the contrary, he looks unusually chipper on this July afternoon in Mayfair.

“I have been lucky,” Mr. Hayward says. “Having the opportunity to do something like this is fantastic.”

He continues: “It is fair to say I wanted to recover some of my self-esteem.”

ON the night of April 20, 2010 — the early morning hours of April 21 in London — the Macondo well erupted below the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, ripping through the rig, killing 11 people and creating one of the worst environmental catastrophes in United States history. Tony Hayward was having breakfast in a London hotel when he got the news.

By now the events that followed are well known: the desperate efforts to cap the gushing well; the harrowing collapse in BP’s share price; the government inquiries; the multibillion-dollar cleanup. On July 27, BP said that Mr. Hayward was out. He was replaced by Robert Dudley, the first American chief executive in BP’s history.

Mr. Hayward was poleaxed. He’d spent his entire career at BP, slowly working his way up only to lose it all after three short years as chief executive.

He took several months off to think. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, skied in the French Alps and, at 53, concluded that he was too young to retire. He initially thought about going into private equity, one of the iconic Wall Street businesses of the boom years, but then ruled that out. It takes many billions to make a mark in the oil and gas industry, and few corporate buyout specialists, rich as they are, have the wherewithal or the patience.

So Mr. Hayward turned to Nathaniel Rothschild, of the great European banking family, who had established a company, now called Bumi, to acquire stakes in Indonesian coal mines and place them under a listing on the London stock market.

Bankrolled in part by Mr. Rothschild, Mr. Hayward now hopes to make a new fortune in small oil. He and his business partner, Julian Metherell, the former head of energy investment banking at Goldman Sachs, have joined forces with a pioneer in Kurdish oil investment, Mehmet Sepil, and Mr. Sepil’s business partner, Mehmet Karamehmet, a media and telecom mogul and the chairman of Turkey’s Cukurova Group conglomerate.

Mr. Hayward, Mr. Metherell and Mr. Rothschild tried to replicate Bumi in the oil business. They set up what is known as a cash shell, a company with no business, just a promise that it will find one. It was called Vallares. Mr. Hayward then spent weeks in New York, London, Abu Dhabi and beyond, drumming up investors. Vallares eventually went public on the London Stock Exchange, raising $2.1 billion. That money, Vallares said, would be used to buy unspecified oil and gas assets in emerging markets, although Mr. Hayward hinted that he was interested in Kurdistan.

It might be surprising to Americans who watched the gulf spill unfold on TV, but Mr. Hayward’s new investors tend to shrug off the disaster and his inglorious end at BP. After all, they have entrusted him with a lot of money. His backers include Paulson & Company, the New York hedge fund firm run by John A. Paulson, as well as government investment funds in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.

“I think he probably got a bad press,” Richard Buxton, a portfolio manager at the big British asset management firm Schroders, says of Mr. Hayward.

“In a way he has something to prove,” Mr. Buxton continues. “From an investor’s point of view, that is not a bad thing.”

It also helps that Mr. Hayward and Mr. Metherell each invested £4 million ($6.3 million) in their venture. Mr. Rothschild invested £90 million ($143 million).

AFTER its initial stock offering, Vallares had a lot of money but it didn’t have that much time. If Mr. Hayward didn’t find suitable investments within two years, he would have to return the money to shareholders. So he asked bankers at Credit Suisse, the big Swiss bank, to draw up a list of investment ideas. The most attractive was Mr. Sepil’s Turkish company, Genel Energy International, which was then private.

Mr. Sepil was not originally in the oil business. He was mostly involved in construction engineering. But in 2002, shortly before the United States invaded Iraq, he was working as a contractor in Kurdistan. It was there that he was approached by Jalal Talabani, a leading Kurdish politician and now Iraq’s president, about developing an oil field called Taq Taq. Mr. Sepil found a rig and put it to work.

“I didn’t know anything about oil but the tank of my car,” Mr. Sepil recalls.

Taq Taq turned out to be a field with billion-barrel potential. Eventually Mr. Sepil assembled stakes in various Kurdistan oil fields. When he heard that Mr. Hayward had raised so much money, he decided to get in touch.

One July evening in 2011, Mr. Hayward, Mr. Sepil and Mr. Metherell dined at a private club off Berkeley Square in London. Mr. Sepil and Mr. Hayward hit it off, and a business alliance was forged. Because of Kurdistan’s precarious political situation, Genel’s oil came very cheap — $1.50 a barrel for reserves and prospective oil. “It was unusual to find assets of this quality that hadn’t been bagged by the majors,” Mr. Metherell says.

Mr. Sepil was looking for someone to bring capital and better technology to Genel, and he says he found that someone in Mr. Hayward. “I always admired Tony,” he says. The gulf spill, he says, was “something that could have happened to anyone in the world.”

Before long Genel and Vallares merged, leaving the combined company, called Genel Energy and listed in London, with a pile of cash. The Turkish side owns about 45 percent of the company, although its voting rights are limited to just under 30 percent. Mr. Sepil is not on the board, in part as a result of a previous scrape with  British securities regulators that resulted in a stiff fine. The board is headed by Rodney F. Chase, a former deputy chief executive of BP, and is composed mostly of veteran London business figures.

For the moment, things seem to be going relatively smoothly. Mr. Hayward travels to Kurdistan about six times a year and often visits Ankara, Turkey’s capital, where Genel’s management headquarters for Kurdistan is based. In Ankara, he typically stays in Mr. Sepil’s home.

“Tony is running the whole company,” Mr. Sepil says. “I am helping him with the politics — to understand the region.”

Mr. Sepil says that Mr. Hayward makes a good impression in Turkey by making occasional use of the Turkish he learned while doing field work there as a graduate student in geology. “He is the golden boy here,” Mr. Sepil says. In Kurdistan, Mr. Hayward spends much of his time pressing Genel’s interests with senior government officials.

Today Genel is the leading oil producer in Kurdistan. It produces 40,000 barrels a day, but it could be pumping twice that if it could export. The oil can be exported through a Baghdad-controlled pipeline from Kirkuk to Ceyhan in Turkey, and in smaller amounts by truck. But pipeline exports have been sporadic because of disputes between the Kurds and Baghdad. Unless the oil can be exported, it goes to Kurdish refineries for a price of about $60 per barrel — well below that on world markets.

Yet despite the obstacles, Genel is generating most of the cash needed to pay for its $200-million-to-$250-million-a-year exploration and development program in Kurdistan. It is also sitting on about $1 billion for acquisitions.

Mr. Hayward, who has a Ph.D. in geology, often pores over seismic images, looking for the next big find. In August, Genel announced a flurry of deals, spending about $860 million to strengthen its position in Kurdistan. Mr. Hayward has also been trying to diversify Genel’s sources of oil. The company recently acquired a small enterprise called Barrus Petroleum, which explores off the coast of Morocco, as well as acreage off Malta and in Somalia.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is gradually persuading the oil majors to defy Baghdad and invest in Kurdistan. Recently Chevron, Total of France and Gazprom, the Russian giant, have signed deals, despite Baghdad’s threat to bar them from new contracts in Iraq. Mr. Hayward argues that the Kurds will eventually win.

“You can’t have one million barrels a day of oil shut in,” he says, speaking of Kurdistan’s eventual production target. The region’s capacity is now around 250 thousand barrels per day.

So far that calculation has not been reflected in Genel’s share price, which has fallen by about 30 percent since the company went public. But some analysts are optimistic.

“The situation between Baghdad and Erbil could be at an inflection point,” says Phil Corbett, an analyst at Deutsche Bank in London. With a secure pipeline to world markets, he says, Genel could realize the potential of its fields. If that happens, its share price, which closed at 689.50 pence on Friday, could easily double, he says.

Mr. Hayward, for his part, seems as excited as ever about oil exploration, not just in Iraq but also in Africa, where he is hunting for another acquisition. He points out that many recent discoveries in Africa have been made by relatively small companies, rather than by the majors. Energy exploration is a risky, expensive business. But Mr. Hayward, the face of the gulf spill, is unbowed.

“People are only beginning to wake up to look at the world of exploration,” he says. “If the world stays as open as it is, the little guy will be able to make a difference.”


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