How This Former Nigerian Civil Servant Built A Multi-Million Dollar Oil Company Worth Over $200 Million Dollars
Intelligence, commitment, perseverance, and intentional growth are the dominant themes in the story of this entrepreneur, as a mix of these attributes has made his journey fruitful and profitable.
This is the story of a man who rose from the obscurity of his village to become one of the most sought-after entrepreneurs in the oil and gas industry. His name is Austin Avuru and he’s the co-founder of Seplat Petroleum Development Company.
Here is how he did it.
Early Life And Education Of Austin Avuru
Austin Avuru was born on the 17th of August, 1958, in Ipetu-Ijesha, Osun state, to parents who hailed from Abbi, Delta state.
He left primary school with distinctions then proceeded to Orogun Grammar School, where he graduated in 1975 with a Division 1 in a class of 118 students.
He was retained by the school as a teacher at the age of 17 and taught physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology.
After a short time at this teaching job, he gained academic admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he excelled as an A student. He possessed a strong drive in his pursuit of anything he set his sight on, which was well reflected in his academics as well as the extracurricular activities he was involved in.
He was the leader of the Student’s Union Parliament, 1978/79; member of the University Debate Team, 1978-80; and President of the University Graduating Class of 1980, before he eventually graduated with a B.Sc (Second Class Upper) degree in Geology from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
In spite of Austin Avuru’s involvement in school activities, he found time to attend literary events with the famous Professor Chinua Achebe, Gbubemi Amas and many others at The Anthill, a music and poetry club with poetry readings and live music every Wednesday.
He was what many would call a well-rounded student.
Three years after graduating from the University of Nigeria, Avuru undertook a course at the E&E Training school at the Petroleum Training Institute, Warri. Out of a class of 36 Geologists and Petroleum Engineers, Austin Avuru emerged not just the best overall, but also the best in Geology, best in Geophysics, and best in Petroleum Engineering
Due to his commitment to personal and career development, Austin Avuru proceeded to the University of Ibadan for a Post Graduate Diploma in Petroleum Engineering, and once again, his performance was stellar.
He finished with 7 As and 3 B+s as well as the honour of Best Graduating Student in the Petroleum Engineering class of 1992.
His Early Career
Avuru started his career in the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) as a youth corps member. After the completion of his NYSC, he was retained and worked there for another eleven years. He left the commission in 1992, after which he went ahead to obtain his post-graduate diploma in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
Following the completion of his diploma, Austin Avuru joined Kase Lawal’s Allied Energy (Nig.) Limited—a pioneer deepwater operator—and worked there as the Exploration Coordinator until 1996.
During his stay in Allied Energy, he planned and supervised one full-cycle Field Development/Production startup project, as well as two deepwater Exploration and Drilling Projects.
Journey Into Entrepreneurship
In 2003, Avuru co-founded Platform Petroleum Limited (Operator of the Asuokpu/Umutu Field) as Managing Director/CEO. He built the company from scratch to a staff strength of 85 and developed Umutu Field to its commercial production point.
In 2010, Platform Petroleum teamed up with two other companies to create Seplat Petroleum Development Company Ltd and Avuru became the pioneer Managing Director/CEO.
Seplat is the only African exploration and production (E&P) company to be listed on the main board of the London Stock Exchange.
In 2014, the company lost the bid for Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 in eastern Nigeria.
According to Austin Avuru, he said “That was one of our lowest points in this company because the acreage was going to be a company changing asset for us: it was going to give us the size that we seek,”.
OML 29 is a sprawling, highly valuable property, spanning an area of 983 square kilometres (or 242,550 acres) onshore and holding some 2.2Billion barrels of oil equivalent, in proved and probable (P1+P2) reserves, in nine fields, according to a 2013 Competent Persons Report by NNS.
While Avuru was managing Platform Petroleum as well, a drill the company was constructing collapsed.
“The biggest setback was the day I woke up and found out that the cellar of the appraisal development well that we were drilling in Umutu had collapsed. We borrowed $10million to drill that well and supplemented with our cash and in the end, the well cost us $19million. We borrowed $20million for the gas processing plant and our production was declining and we couldn’t borrow more. We were almost in the throes of death. This was in 2009 and that was when I scratched my head and thought, ‘This is it’. The only thing that came to our aid eventually was the pipeline network that we had built all by ourselves to the cluster,” he recalled, referring to a cluster of four oil fields in the Western Niger Delta, which evacuate their crudes into Platform’s facility. “The Ase River Pipeline was generating about $2million in gross revenue in tariff every year. So that revenue stream was enough to negotiate a revolving credit facility with Skye Bank for $5million. It was that money that we eventually used to work our way back to life.”
Seplat started its production in 2010 and has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Currently, the company has its operations on at least eight oil blocks, with a staff strength of over four hundred employees.
The company now produces oil on a total of 6,863 km square and has invested $64 million in local social investment programs since its inception.
Austin Avuru’s Achievements
In the last 12 years, Avuru has been nominated by two successive Nigerian Ministers of Petroleum for the position of the Director of Petroleum Resources and had come terribly close to being appointed as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, the hugely influential state hydrocarbon company. “I had a one-on-one interview with President Yar’adua,” he said.
In 1989, he was honoured with the NNPC GMD’s Merit Award for “Outstanding Performance and Distinguished Professional and Leadership Qualities.” As a young Manager in NNPC at the time, Avuru’s dedication to duty, incomparable intelligence and outstanding leadership qualities made him a recipient of this award.
Avuru won the highly prestigious and coveted Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Master Category for the Nigerian and West African sub-region in 2013, an award that was last won by Aliko Dangote in the preceding year.
Austin Avuru, a thoroughbred industry professional and vocal advocate of indigenous participation in the exploration and production sectors of the Nigerian oil industry, has served the oil and gas industry in various capacities, including as technical coordinator for the review of the industry’s memorandum of understanding, membership of the ministerial committee on the restructuring of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and as a consultant to the Senate committee on petroleum resources between 2000 and 2003.
He is a sought after speaker and writer on oil and gas, and a mentor and role model to several young and aspiring entrepreneurs who want to make a landmark in their generation.
To Sum It Up
A close look at the story of Austin Avuru shows the story of a man who consistently showed up to work diligently and persevered no matter what. He set an example for those passionate about self-development and growth, and ss an entrepreneur, these characteristics are needed in the journey to success.
The question now is this: Are you disciplined and committed to self-development?