Olufemi Bakare has over 20 years’ experience in the Energy Industry (Infrastructure and Power) working on Acquisition Strategies and Project Structuring/Development. He has over the last 13 years led the growth of Fenchurch from a single company to a diversified group focused on energy, electricity, and infrastructure. Prior to co-starting Fenchurch, he was Senior Associate at Petroconsultants-MIA (IHS Energy) UK, Business Development Executive at Zenon Oil and Gas Nigeria (core investor in African Petroleum Plc) and served as an adviser to Transcorp Plc Nigeria. He serves on the Boards of Directors of Zeric Energy Resources, SyncSystems West Africa and The Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF) Nigeria. Olufemi obtained his LLB degree from LSB University London; attended The Inns of Court School of Law.
“My first job ever was a summer holiday job at a quick service restaurant called Pizzaland on Oxford Street in London. I worked in the kitchen and this exposed me to the value of process in building a business”.
How did you become a lawyer and how has it affected your career choice(s)?
I have always had a desire to be free to work on something that I will own, that will outlast me and that will contribute to society in a meaningful way. Early in my career, I worked for Petroconsultants-MAI in the United Kingdom; it has now been taken over by IHS Energy. I was responsible for projects in the Gulf of Guinea. This exposed me to projects in West Africa at a time when some indigenous companies such as Oando were emerging as major players in the oil and gas industry.
I relocated to Nigeria after I was recruited by Zenon Oil as a Strategy and Business Development consultant. This was a vibrant time for the economy and many professionals were returning to the country from abroad to explore a variety of opportunities. At Zenon, I worked on AP and Port Harcourt refinery acquisitions as well as the Transcorp acquisition pitch. This allowed me to observe firsthand the potential for the growth of indigenous companies in the oil and gas space. It also motivated me to start Fenchurch with my friend from secondary school, Funsho Adeyemi. Our initial focus was on advisory services for players in the oil and gas industry and we still do this. However, we observed developments in the power sector as a growth opportunity and this led to establishing Fenchurch Power. We have a continent-wide focus and are currently exploring opportunities in Guinea, Ghana and Sierra Lone.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from University?
I knew I did not want to practice law but I realized sound legal advice is critical to the success of businesses, from the ideation or conceptualization stage to actual transactions. Also, the importance of friendships. Studying in an international city like London exposed me to a wide variety of people and cultures. I made great friends who remain cherished friends. Some of the friendships have led to valuable business dealings.
If you had the opportunity to go back in time, what career tips would you offer a young Olufemi Bakare who is just leaving University?
First, knowing what I know now, I would have also studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Politics because as human beings, we are social creatures. Understanding government, governance and policies in your environment is important. It is an advantage to understand how societal structures and governance work especially in emerging markets.
Philosophy because there is a thought process or reasoning behind everything people do as individuals or groups. There’s an experience or exposure that informs what we know or believe we know. Appreciating this underpins critical thinking which is vital for growth.
Economics because it is life, commerce, and enterprise. I think greater knowledge in these areas would have served me well as a young professional. It also would have been useful to do an MBA shortly after law school.
What’s the main thing you learnt from your first job?
My first job ever was a summer holiday job at a quick service restaurant called Pizzaland on Oxford Street in London. I worked in the kitchen and this exposed me to the value of process in building a business. I saw how individuals work as part of a team; people working collectively to achieve a common goal. I saw that no role in the kitchen was unimportant. Everyone had an important task to complete and I saw how one team’s success supported the success of another. I was fresh out of secondary school. The experience made a big impression on me while adding some money to my pocket at the end of the week. It was nice and rewarding.
Things that you have learnt in business that they don’t teach on MBA courses.
The importance of cultural sensitivity. It makes a big difference in a world where you must relate with different people all the time. The internet has also connected us all on a level that’s unprecedented in human history. It is a global community now and cultural sensitivity is extra important. In my view, it should be thought even in high school.
Who has been the greater influence, Mom or Dad?
Both my parents were great influences. My mother showed me how to deal with people, to be kind, generous, patient and happy. She also taught me not to rush and, to the extent possible, pursue the freedom to do what you love. She was and still is a reader and the breadth of knowledge she has means that she has a lot of ideas about a range of issues. Very progressive ideas and this only became apparent to me when I got older and discussed childhood memories with friends. We were allowed to follow the religion we liked. Imagine that in the 1908s! She is not a very conventional Nigerian mother.
My father spent his career at Shell and that exposed me to the oil industry. They both had the middle-class value system of the 1970s and 1980s where you study, work and get rewarded. They influenced me greatly, especially in bequeathing a reading culture. We are still all readers and share books with each other. My mother is 81 by the way. She also made sure I did not see my sickle cell as a disadvantage. It was not to be a limiting factor.
What type of music do you like?
I like Rock, Classic, Blackxploitation, Soul and Acid Jazz. Artists I like include Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic. I am also a huge fan of Nina Simone. Oasis are my best band in the world! I am also into rap music but not so much anymore because I don’t understand a lot of the rap styles these days. I am also exploring a lot of African sound at the moment. I like the Yoruba Apala, Sakara and Juju genres as well as Highlife. I like Ebo Taylor, Baabaa Maal, Salif Keita, Fela and many others. As you can see, my music taste is all over the place. I have a big CD stash and now a growing vinyl collection.
Who are your favourite authors?
I like Chinua Achebe books a lot. I read them in school as part of the literature class but reading them many years later offers a different perspective. I also like biographies. I am currently reading MAO: A life by Philip Short. I am trying to get some insight into China, its people and their journey so far. It is extremely interesting reading about Mau Zedong.
Who is your best boss ever and why?
I will say Femi Otedola. He has that breadth of vision and a can-do attitude. His mantra was if you think it, you can achieve it. Just assemble the right team of people. For him, there was no transaction that is too big. That “No Limit” mentality is something I learnt from him as well as the value of assembling the right people for the task.
What has been the biggest lesson that you have learnt as a boss?
I will say I have learnt that discipline takes you further. If you are disciplined as the boss, your subordinates will follow suit. Your discipline as the boss influences the team. They respect your discipline and feel they must reward it with high performance. I have also learnt that it is important to create a platform for the team members to express themselves. They also need to be free to arrive at the goal or objective in their own way. This allows them take ownership of the tasks they are responsible for.
The spread of Covid-19 has inflicted a huge burden on society and the economy. What in your view has been the biggest lesson from this pandemic?
I will say that the big lesson is to enjoy every day because life is unpredictable. Life is not all about work. Getting stuck at home for months has exposed how much our lives can be tied to work or revolve around work. However, there is so much more to life that we often ignore. Relationships, self-improvement and philanthropy are all important spices we must add to our lives.
Things you value the most in a candidate when hiring?
Integrity and discipline. It is not always easy to test this but sometimes you can see it in a candidate’s experiences and from listening to candidates talk about how they have navigated their careers.
What’s your favourite place in Nigeria and abroad?
I like Ibadan. I went to a boarding school there. It is a peaceful city. I also like to go to the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan. Abroad, I went to Christchurch and Akaroa in New Zealand once and it will be amazing to go back there. The culture, scenery and food were just amazing. I also liked Florence, Italy so it will be great to go back someday.
Your favourite Nigerian brand and why?
Oando. I think they have been deliberate in building a great brand and have succeeded at doing so. I don’t think they get enough respect for that they have achieved in the industry.
Interest in sports?
Not really. I have been trying to take up golf for a while but I haven’t gotten round to it. I enjoy a leisurely walk in the evening though and I have started riding my bicycle in the morning.
Best use of money ever for you.
My laptop and my phone. They allow me to operate from anywhere in the world. If you take a moment to think about the impact of those two devices on our lives, work and relationships, you may realise how much we take them for granted. The value of those devices far outweigh how much we pay for them.
Who would you like to spend a holiday with?
A great holiday will be one with my wife, children, and Elon Musk. I think my kids will learn so much from listening to him talk about what the future will be like especially from a tech perspective as well as space. He might also be that person that finally explains crypto currencies to me in a manner that I will understand.
Where do you see Nigeria in the next decade?
I think we are close to turning the corner as a nation because we have reached a tipping point in our socio-economic history. I think that we will also begin to see the impact of some of the investments that have been made in the last decade. There has been a lot of reforms in the power sector. For example, the distribution companies are looking to partner with IPP developers like us. This will naturally lead to greater access to electricity for more people. With improved electricity comes growth and development. However, if we can achieve greater progress in the soft but important reforms such as education, respect for contract and the rule of law, I think the sky is the limit for the country. I think the entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerians will find a way to build the hard stuff that we need to move forward. That’s why our motto at the Fenchurch Group is “Advancement through Enterprise”.