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(ANTHONY JENKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(ANTHONY JENKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

THE LUNCH

Amjad Bseisu: The ultimate outsider, in from the cold Add to ...

One of his Arco bosses suggested he would have to change his name to AJ or similar “if you are going to succeed at this company.” He kept his name and succeeded nonetheless, leaving in 1998 as president of Arco Petroleum Ventures, where he steered the company into energy-rich Algeria, and Arco Crude Trading.

Mr. Bseisu is the son of a Palestinian banker who lost his home, in Jaffa, in what is now Israel, when the Israeli state was created. “In 1948, he came back from school, found a note on the door that he should go to the port as quickly as possible,” he said. “The Israelis had given them an ultimatum. So he left Jaffa on a boat, with no possessions, and went to Gaza. Then from Gaza, he went to school in Egypt, then went to school in Lebanon, then started working in Saudi Arabia.”

At one point, the peripatetic family found themselves back in what was left of Palestine. Mr. Bseisu was born in Jerusalem in 1963 and the family moved to Bahrain two years later. The young boy was something of a prodigy, skipping three grades, allowing him to enter the American University of Beirut at age 15. That was just in time for the Lebanese civil war. He remembers a bullet whizzing through his classroom when the Syrian army was fighting the Phalangists in Eastern Beirut. “The shooting was random enough to be worrisome,” he said.

With Lebanon crumbling, Mr. Bseisu in 1979 fled to Duke University in North Carolina, where he studied mechanical engineering, then shifted to Stanford, where he received a master’s and a doctorate in aeronautical engineering. Unable to work in the defence industry because he lacked U.S. citizenship, he considered working as an engineer for IBM in Florida, was turned off by the anonymity of its vast labs, and landed at Arco. “I decided I wanted to be in oil, I wanted a link back to the Middle East, my roots are there,” he says.

His 14 years at Arco taught him the oil business, but it was his next job, at Petrofac Ltd., an oilfield services and engineering company, that gave him true professional independence and wealth. At Petrofac, he launched the operations and investment business, which saw him oversee projects in which the company would not only build the infrastructure, but take a stake in the producing field.

By the time Petrofac went public in 2005, Mr. Bseisu owned 10 per cent of the London-listed company, whose market value is now more than £5.5-billion (he gradually sold his shares after the IPO). Two years ago, Petrofac spun out its North Sea assets and merged them with those of Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum to form EnQuest. Mr. Bseisu was installed as CEO and Jim Buckee, the former CEO of Canada’s Talisman Energy Inc., became chairman. Nigel Hares, Talisman’s former international operations boss, became EnQuest’s chief operating officer.

They embarked on what Mr. Bseisu called a “scavenger” strategy, one that has proved the allegedly clapped-out North Sea still has some life left in it. As the North Sea’s U.K. production declines – oil output has fallen to one million barrels a day from three million since 1999 – the big oil companies packing up. “They become so large, that the economics of 50 million barrels of reserves is of no interest to them,” he says.

EnQuest is filling the void and drilling like mad. Production and cash flow are soaring, with compound annual growth rates of 20 per cent. By 2014, EnQuest expects to produce 33,000 barrels a day or more. Mr. Bseisu wants to replicate the scavenger model in other wheezing elephant fields off Malaysia and Norway.

On a good trading day, EnQuest is worth almost £1-billion. Mr. Bseisu is a great believer in the company – he owns 9.5 per cent of the shares. “It’s almost his company,” says chairman Mr. Buckee, who professes disappointment that the shares trade at a low multiple by North American standards, where an oil company’s cash flow trumps net asset value.

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