Mayfair is an unlikely spot to find a lowly paid hack like me let alone a Palestinian oil boss. It is very much the territory of fair-skinned British and American hedge fund and private equity bosses of rude wealth. They glide along the streets in Bentleys and Jaguars and drink Tanquerey gin at £9 a pop. Mayfair is an island of gold in a sea of lead; it displays no hint of recession.
Nor does Harry’s Bar at 26 South Audley St., where I am to meet Amjad Bseisu, the chief executive of EnQuest PLC, the aggressive oil company, stuffed with refugees from Canada’s Talisman Energy Inc., which has become the biggest independent player in the U.K. slice of the North Sea.
Both Mr. Bseisu and EnQuest are odd creatures. Wealthy, self-made Palestinian oil bosses are exceedingly rare in the global energy industry and his rise was buffeted by some of the typical prejudices directed at executives of his background. And EnQuest is going where Big Oil now fears to tread. The company is showing that reports of the North Sea’s imminent death are premature.
When I roll up to Harry’s, one of London’s more exclusive clubs (with no relation to the bar of the same name in Venice) on a Monday evening in September, the doorman gives me an unsubtle sneer. Fresh from the airport, I am wearing black jeans, black T-shirt, black jacket and am lugging a black overnight bag. To him, I must look like an East London thug from a Guy Ritchie film. He condescends to let me in when I explain I am a guest of Mr. Bseisu’s. Once inside, the Sardinian maître d’ invites me to vanish – quickly please – into the men’s room and change into the jacket and tie he correctly assumes are stuffed into my bag.
The whole place reeks of old money and then I get it. To Mr. Bseisu, the ultimate outsider, a man without a country, membership in Harry’s must mean that he has landed in, and been accepted by, high-end English society.
Mr. Bseisu, 49, is rather short with a full head of thick black hair and permanent 5 o’clock shadow. He wears rimless glasses and an expensive dark suit. He obviously enjoys his career and wealth and is chatty and opinionated about everything from peak oil (he’s a believer) to Middle East geopolitics.
As we tuck into our £240-meal – fish for him, veal for me, mushroom soup and prosciutto to start – we quickly get on the topic of Israel and Iran. “Unfortunately, there is a high probability that Israel will bomb Iran,” he says, predicting that oil would hit $150 (U.S.) a barrel if it does. “The U.S. is trying to constrain them.”
Rumoured to be worth close to a billion dollars, he must be among the very richest members of the Palestinian diaspora and is not afraid to show it. Through his family trust, he recently bought an old schoolhouse in Knightsbridge and is converting it into a 10,000-square-foot family home – he and his wife Suha have two young children – complete with a double-level basement. Last December, he bought Kylie Minogue’s hybrid Lexus for £30,000 at a charity auction, removed the headrests that had been signed by the singer-actress and returned the car.
Mr. Bseisu has not always been accepted in spite of his success. During his formative 14 years at Atlantic Richfield (Arco), the American oil giant bought by BP in 2000, he lived in Texas and was routinely treated as an exotic, and vaguely menacing, stranger from afar because of his Palestinian heritage. He remembers working at a project in Kermit, an oil town in the state’s far west, where he felt as if he had landed on a different plant. “This lady would come and ask me my name every night, and she’d ask everyone in the restaurant to listen,” he says. “They all laughed, they just cracked up. They couldn’t believe someone had a name like mine.”