Aidan Heavey: comeback kid of the oil and gas industry

Former Tullow boss’s latest venture aims to exploit divestment drive by big energy

Aidan Heavey’s new venture Boru aims to exploit divestment drive by big energy company.

Aidan Heavey’s new venture Boru aims to exploit divestment drive by big energy company.

 

After pledging to end his career in the oil and gas sector with Tullow, the company he founded in the mid 1980s, it seems Aidan Heavey has had a change of heart. A year after exiting Tullow, he has stepped back into the fray, announcing a new venture, Boru Energy, with former Tullow colleague Tom Hickey and $1 billion (€916,879) in backing from US investment giant Carlyle.

The one-time Aer Lingus accountant, Heavey founded Tullow in 1985 after getting wind of an opportunity to rework some oil and gas fields in Senegal and went about raising money from family and friends for a business he knew little or nothing about. He learned fast and the business grew quickly.

The company initially focused on buying assets that bigger players were selling or in which they were not interested. In 2000, it snapped up gas fields in the North Sea from BP, before doubling in size four years later with the takeover of Energy Africa, giving it assets from Ghana to Namibia along the west coast of Africa. It was catapulted into the FTSE 100 index in 2007 following the $1.1 billion takeover of Australia’s Hardman Resources, which boosted its position in Uganda, a landlocked country in east Africa.

Heavey’s commercial instincts combined with an ability to generate fierce loyalty from staff saw Tullow grow from virtually a penny stock into a FTSE 100 company, with shares hitting a high of £15 on the London market at one stage.

What began as a small gas producer in Senegal grew to a hugely successful company with operations, at one time or another, in 45 countries around the world, including 20 in Africa.

Heavey said on several occasions that being Irish was a big advantage when it came to doing business in Africa, as Ireland is not a former colonial power.

Debt pile

However, Tullow’s huge debt pile and high-risk, high-return model would make it a plaything for hedge funds placing wagers against the stock from 2014 as oil prices plummeted from a high of $115 a barrel to as low as $28 and the group wrote off billions of dollars of prior exploration expenses.

This marked a period of difficulty for the company and Heavey, who was forced to preside over deep staff cuts.

Tullow swung into its first annual operating profit for three years in 2017, on the back of rebounding oil prices. Paul McDade took over as chief executive in 2017 as Heavey moved on temporarily to the role of chairman.

Heavey stepped down as chairman last year. Back in 2007, he had said that when he bowed out of Tullow he’d leave the oil industry for good. However, the draw appears to have been too much and his new venture Boru Energy has similar objectives to Tullow’s earlier incarnation in snapping up non-operated assets. Boru hopes to take advantage of a major divestment drive by big energy companies looking to shift away from fossil fuels.