Black Gold

Kase Lawal's business prowess, along with a spikein oil prices, is fueling CAMAC International's riseto the nation's second-largest black business

Kase L. Lawal approaches the podium with his usual serenity. He looks at the crowd of more than 200 well-wishers who traveled from all over the country-and across the globe-to pay tribute to his company, on its 20th anniversary.

It’s a lively affair. Houston’s Kuumba House Dance Theatre entertains the crowd. Thunderous drums and syncopated chants fill the ballroom as the group performs a variety of South, West, and East African songs and dances in traditional festive garb. As the room grows silent, Lawal begins his tale of growing up in Nigeria, migrating to America to pursue an education, and eventually launching an oil drilling and exploration company.

Not to be mistaken for a reckless wildcatter, Lawal is analytical and explores all options before committing to a business strategy or resources. Even in conversation, he pauses guardedly before responding to questions. He carefully weighs each word, communicating with precision and economy when conveying his message.

Lawal continues with an anecdote about CAMAC’s early days, when he flew around the world to secure financing and land the deals needed to grow his company. His oldest son, Kase Jr., was in nursery school at the time, and the class was asked to discuss what their parents did for a living. “Several students raised their hands and yelled ‘fireman, policeman, teacher, nurse, lawyer, and real estate agent,’” recalls Lawal. Then the teacher asked the younger Lawal about his father’s occupation. “It was then that Kase, who frequently saw me off at the airport for business trips and who also had the occasion to travel at an early age said, ‘He works at the airport and passes out peanuts.’”

Jokes aside, this enterprising CEO has good reason to celebrate. He has taken CAMAC (No. 2 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $1.5 billion in sales) from humble beginnings to an oil and gas exploration and production giant that trades crude oil and natural gas in Africa and Europe as well as wholesale electric power in the United States. CAMAC affiliates own or lease oil and gas reserves on and offshore in West Africa and Colombia. Deals are in place to enter oil-rich Venezuela.

With the price of oil reaching a record-high $75 a barrel, CAMAC is positioned to meet or exceed the 51% revenue growth it achieved for 2005. But that’s not the only thing driving Lawal. Determined to economically empower African Americans, his company has entered the financial arena. Through the recent acquisition of a controlling stake in the only black-owned bank in Texas, Lawal plans to offer community members greater access to capital. He’s also considering a private equity fund to invest in minority-owned businesses as he expands his oil drilling operations into new regions. Due to Lawal’s visionary zeal and the expansion of his business and financial empire, BLACK ENTERPRISE has named CAMAC International our 2006 Company of the Year.

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