Ogunlesi listed by Forbes as one of top 10 Africans making it in New York
It’s impossible to talk about powerful Africans in business without mentioning 59 – year-old Nigerian industrialist, Adebayo Ogunlesi. As chairman and managing partner of Global Infrastructure Partners, a $5.64billion New York-based private equity firm, which invests in infrastructure assets, Adebayo Ogunlesi – or Bayo, for short, as those close to him call him – is one of the most powerful and successful Africans in business, driving major acquisitions, deals and investments, not just in New York City, but also around the world.
Born in 1953, in a small town in Ogun State, Nigeria, to a medical doctor and his wife, Ogunlesi was educated in Lagos at King’s College, an exclusive private school, which has produced Nigerian heads of state. He went on to study in Britain and the United States. Like his father, Nigeria’s first – ever medical professor, Ogunlesi’s path has been one of firsts.
After receiving a first class Honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University, he went on to gain both an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Juris Doctor Law degree, graduating magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1979. At a time when it only admitted American nationals, Ogunlesi was one of the three international students admitted to Harvard Law School.
While at Harvard, where he has also lectured on investing in emerging nations, he was the first African and only one of six people of African descent – including US president, Barack Obama, to have edited the esteemed student –run Harvard Law Review. It was clear from early on that Ogunlesi was destined for immense success. After graduation, he went on to become the first non-American to clerk at the United States Supreme Court under the auspices of Associate Justice Honorable Thurgood Marshall, who Ogunlesi says is one of his major influences.
However, it was in 1993, less than a year after becoming an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a premier New York law firm, that the world of global finance opened up to him. First Boston, a major American investment bank, was assisting the Nigerian government in the financing of a $6billion natural gas venture. As providence would have it, the contact at the Nigerian end of the deal knew Ogunlesi personally; First Boston requested Ogunlesi to join them for three months to work on the deal. Twenty years later, at the ages of 48, he’d worked his way up through First Boston from project finance to being handpicked by then CEO John J. Mack to become the Global Head of Investment Banking at Credit Suisse First Boston (Credit Suisse acquired First Boston in 1990).
Ogunlesi was quick to make necessary changes, increasing effectiveness and introducing fiscal cutbacks, swiftly making hundreds of bankers redundant, while cutting other costs including pay for those with guaranteed contracts. A year later, Credit Suisse First Boston – which at the time of Ogunlesi’s taking the role was going through challenging times, having lost nearly $1billion and facing accusations of corrupting its stock research in order to appease corporate clients – had maintained its position as the number one bank. Before 2008, when Ogunlesi left Credit Suisse First Boston to start Global Infrastructure Partners – in which Credit Suisse and General Electric were founding investors – he had risen to executive vice chairman and chief client officer. Although the bespectacled and well-liked Nigerian business mogul is known to avoid the public and the press, his £1.455 billion debt – free acquisition of London’s Gatwick airport – the UK’s second largest airport and the world’s busiest single runway airport, which handles approximately 33 million passengers per year-made his name public.
Many outside of the finance industry had never heard of him until then. What many in the public also did not know was that Ogunlesi is no stranger to acquiring airports – Global Infrastructure Partners also purchased London City Airport in 2006. Ogunlesi’s success is no surprise to those who’ve watched him build up a formidable track record. Accolades have been coming for some time: In 2002, he was named one of Time’s most promising young executives on its Global Influential list and Fortune pronounced him the seventh-most powerful black executive in the United States – billionaire media personality and business woman Oprah Winfrey came in at number 10. In 2011, he was awarded an African Banker Icon Award and was also named in Black Enterprise’s “Who’s Who on Wall Street”.
The ever-busy Ogunlesi sits on a number of boards and although based in New York, he actively cultivates his ties to Africa and his homeland, Nigeria. He has been an advisor to previous Nigerian governments and in 2009 became the non –executive chairman of the Africa Finance Corporation which aims to “help drive faster economic growth on the continent by proactively assisting in the development and financing of critical infrastructure, industrial and other assets” as well as being engaged in other civil society organizations. Not bad for a guy who says he only went to business school to “get over his fear of numbers”