x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hayward comes in from the cold

ExxonMobil's move into Kurdistan sets the stage for a round of mergers and consolidations, says the region's oil minister.

ERBIL, Iraq // Tony Hayward, the former head of BP, was deep in conversation with his Turkish business partner as the bright morning sun shone on them yesterday in the Kurdish capital.

They had much to talk about - Erbil was abuzz with news that ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil company, had entered the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq, prompting optimism about oft-contested Kurdish oil.

Just two months earlier, Mr Hayward had brokered a US$2.1 billion (Dh7.71bn) deal for his investment vehicle Vallares to merge with Genel Enerji, a producer in Kurdistan, and it looked like his gamble had paid off. "It's very good news," Mr Hayward said, walking to an oil conference where, for the rest of the day, industry executives would flock to his side.

His fortunes have taken a decidedly upward turn since last year, when he became the pariah of the oil industry in the wake of BP's blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Many Americans reviled him as the British executive who said he just wanted his life back, and by last July had quit as chief executive.

In the year since, Mr Hayward has carved out a new position in the oil industry far from the major players. He and the financier Nat Rothschild created Vallares, an energy investment vehicle that raised $2.2bn in a June initial public offering. In September, Vallares announced it had chosen to invest in Genel Enerji, a Turkish producer that operates one of only two fields in Iraqi Kurdistan that export oil.

Then the news broke on Thursday that the world's biggest oil major had followed him there. Yesterday, Mr Hayward was quick to deflect attention.

"It's not about me or Genel, but for the Kurdistan region," he said, perhaps having learnt a lesson from the media fallout last year.

But Mehmet Sepil, the chief executive of Genel, was eager to celebrate his business partner. "Now we have a new flag in the company," Mr Sepil said. "Other than the Kurdistan and Turkish flag, we are adding the British flag - for Tony."

ayee@thenational.ae

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