By Manny Ita
Adebayo Ogunlesi is certainly not one of your ready-to-come-to-mind glittering billionnaire but that’s the man who dusted the fast dilapidating Gatwick International Airport in London and turned it into a state-of-the-art affair, making it one of the best airports on the planet after acquiring it for a dizzying £1.51 billion.
Yes he is a proudly Nigerian-born investment banker and money manager, little known before the acquisition but who glided into global spotlight with buying London’s second largest international airport in 2006, carving a revered place for himself in history with the feat.
Adebayo Ogunlesi is the chairman and managing partner of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), a New York-based independent private equity fund focused primarily on infrastructural investments, with over $5.6 billion under management.
After Gatwick suffered deep losses over the years, and failed in all the turnaround efforts by its former managers, the British Airport Authority (BAA), Ogunlesi waved his mastery of investment acumen and in a short while turnes the tides. In the first nine months of 2009, the airport reportedly recorded a pre-tax loss of over £780 million, prompting the British government to actively shop for buyers. BAA also reportedly lost £225 million on Gatwick after it was compelled to sell the airport by the Competition Commission.
Not few were sceptical about his ability to make anything meaningful of the acquisition and while their thumbs twiddled in anticipation of collosal failure, Ogunlesi with strong belief went to work promising to make Gatwick a truly first class international airline and substantially improve the customer experience. Perhaps only those well aware of his antecedents believed he would deliver on those promises.
Setting out to working his talk, Ogunlesi embarked on a series of operational improvements aimed at boosting capacity and improving the operating offering and service quality and behold, in its first year after acquisition, the passenger numbers of the airport grew by 22l
Apart from pulling off this mega deal, GIP also has some other noteworthy assets in its portfolio including a 75% stake in London City Airport, and Biffa Limited, a UK based waste management company.
Ogunlesi’s father was the first Nigerian-born professor of medicine who tutored at the country’s premier university, University of Ibadan. After attending the prestigious King’s College, Lagos, he went ahead to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford where he graduated at the top of his class, and later earned law and business degrees from Harvard. At Harvard, he was an outstanding student, becoming one of the first two editors of African descent to serve together on the influential Harvard Law Review.
From Harvard, he worked as a clerk for Thurgood Marshall, a late American Supreme Court justice, from 1980 till 1983, becoming the first non-American ever to clerk at the highest court in the United States.
From there he moved to the New York Law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore in 1983 as an associate, before teaming up with investment bank, First Boston.
Ogunlesi had a meoric rise to the pinnacle of his career while at First Boston, swiftly rising to managing director of the bank’s project-finance group from being an Associate. This necessitated him to travel extensively through emerging market countries where he brokered high-powered deals among lenders, governments, and firms involved in mining, oil refining and natural gas plants.
When Credit Suisse Group acquired First Boston and subsequently renamed it Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) in 1997, as proof of his managerial excellence, Ogunlesi was retained as one of the institution’s most strategic managers, and this was concretised in 2002 when the new owners appointed him Managing Director of the firm’s global investment banking division- one of the most influential subsidiaries of the group, with $2.8 billion in assets in the division for him to manage as well as over 1,200 investment bankers. By this appointment, Ogunlesi automatically became a member of the bank’s board of directors and its influential 15-member operating committee.
Interestingly, having noticed the man’s successful material traits, the appointment was more a task on his acumen return the division back to profitability, considering that the previous year it had lost almost $1 billion.
Not one fazed by challenges or given to failure, he adopted a lean, mean management style, firing 300 bankers and 50 senior executives within the first few weeks of his assumption. After shrinking the executive rank, he persuaded the remaining staff to accept pay cuts and advocated for reduced operating expenses, while taxi cabs replaced the luxurious limousines hitherto used by executives.
This had a tremendous affect on the firm’s resources as the bank quickly returned to profit avenue as revenue rose by 25%. Once more he proved his audacity as a master of investment.
Ogunlesi”s Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) also on June 1st 2012, formally took ownership of Edinburgh Airport in London and announced that Gordon Dewar, a former managing director of the airport, had been appointed chief executive officer.
While Ogunlesi has played pivotal roles in revamping sinking investments in Europe and America, he has not lost sight of his continent Africa, staying abreast with developments and lending his muscles where required
He was at the forefront of the African economic renaissance and was appointed non-executive chairman of the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC), a financial institution set up to revamp Africa’s critical infrastructure and invest in key sectors of the continent’s economy in 2009.
AFC, which was patterned after the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, was a lead investor in the $240 million Main One submarine fibre optic cable that will expand telecommunications capacity in West Africa. AFC also led Africa’s participation in the $750 million syndicated lending facility to develop the landmark Ghanaian Jubilee Oil Field, one of West Africa’s largest deepwater offshore developments in over a decade.
Ogunlesi has also been very active with improving investment infrastructure in his home country, Nigeria, advising successive governments on fiscal policies, strategic management and economic development. He served as an informal adviser to former president Olusegun Obasanjo, and continue to consult for successive governments in the country.
Ogunlesi was also a key part of a roundtable in 2011 to examine the key issues, identify the constraints and proffer practical solutions to the challenges facing Independent Power Plants (IPPs) in the country.
Recently, it was announced that Ogunlesi’s Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) was set to acquire Edinburgh airport for a surprise £807 million ($1.3 billion).