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

price of-oil continues to climb. “The oil industry itself is in great shape,” says Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates, a provider of industry research. “You’re looking at prices that are within reach of record-high levels right now. To the extent that those lofty share prices reflect the health of the oil industry, you just have to say that it’s in really, really good shape, possibly better shape than it’s ever been.”

That’s not to say that higher prices are equivalent to bigger profits. The industry is a cyclical one. The cost of finding oil rises and falls in tandem with that cycle. While the price of crude oil has risen about 30% over the last year, Lawal maintains that the cost of extracting the precious liquid has escalated more than 100%. For instance, he cites a lease CAMAC signed in December for a semisubmersible rig that can drill as deep as 12,000 feet to the seabed. The cost to CAMAC: $320,000 per day. “That rig came off of contract in October last year at $127,000 a day,” he recounts. “Suppliers are in that cycle now where they can make all the money they can because they know if oil goes down to $15, they’re going to market those same rigs for $70,000.”

Oil drilling is a risky business; it costs a lot to drill an exploratory well. To defray those costs, Lawal partners with some of the oil and gas goliaths. CAMAC obtains the drilling rights and, at the same time, gains access to the deep pockets of industry leaders, such as Conoco and Chevron. Under the terms of the agreements, the partners split the profits. “So we can go into a partnership where we own the actual field and we’ll share in the profit, but they put up the up-front capital to actually go in and drill the exploratory well. In some cases, we hedge our risks by partnering and doing it that way,” says Willard Jackson, one of the directors on CAMAC’s board.

One could say that Lawal is representative of the immigrant success story. Born in 1954 in Ibadan, Nigeria, the entrepreneur was raised in what he calls a large, traditional, devoutly Muslim family. His father was a politician and his mother was a textile trader. As a young man, Lawal had dreams of coming to the United States, though he had no idea he’d become an entrepreneur. “Coming to the United States has always been something that youth during our period grew up with, which is the influence of the Western education-the movies, the television,” he recalls. Even in his late teens, Lawal exhibited the discipline needed to become a successful businessman. He read everything he could about the United States and how he could get accepted into an American college. “He obviously had to be a risk taker to be the first person in his family to pack up and leave Nigeria and come to the United States with not much more than

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