Oil and Gas Titian: Austin Avuru

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Austin Avuru started his career with NNPC in 1980, where he was a well-site geologist, production seismologist, and reservoir engineer. He left NNPC in 1992 to become technical manager/Deputy COO of a pioneer deep-water operator start-up, Allied Energy Resources. Buoyed by his appetite for value creation, in 2002 Avuru assembled an array of industry professionals to form Platform Petroleum Limited and became its managing director. Following the divestment program by IOCs, Avuru’s team at Platform worked with Shebah Exploration and Production Company to form SEPLAT in 2009. Under Avuru’s leadership, the company has grown exponentially. Avuru is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School with several other notable academic and professional achievements during the course of his career.

Who is Austin Avuru?
I am a Geologist and Petroleum Engineer. My first degree was in Geology from the University of Nigeria Nsukka where I graduated in 1980. I did my post graduate degree in Petroleum Engineering in 1992 at the University of Ibadan. I also did a Management Programme at Harvard University, America in 2009- 2011. Since I left university in 1980, I have been in the oil and gas industry. 
Who will you say played a major role in your life growing up and how did this contribute to your success?
The number one person that played a major role in my life is my mum. I was six years old when I lost my father, so all I have known as support is my mother. 
Other people I will also say played a role in my life are some of my teachers that taught me at various points in my educational journey. In Secondary School, I had a teacher his name was Professor Solomon Abah. He was my physics and mathematics teacher and he taught me when I was in SS2. It is his influence on me that led me to become a Geologist. 
I also had role models in the oil and gas industry that greatly impacted my life. When I graduated immediately after my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) I started working with Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC). My former bosses, Funsho Kupolonku and Jackson Obaseki influenced how I then matured in the industry. 
The tensions between Iran and USA has led to the increment of Crude Oil prices. What effect do you think this will have on Nigeria and the economy?
The way crude oil and natural gas prices work on a long term and instantaneous basis is patterned. On a long -term basis, if you were to take the oil price from 1970 till date and plot the graph and correct for inflation you will see that the price has been consistent. On the other hand between that long term graphs, we usually have instantaneous peaks and troughs and most of them are caused by geopolitical tensions. At some other time there is an over supply and excess inventory because of an over supply and this causes a trough. For planning purposes, we use the long term trend and do not use crisis to determine the price of the crude oil.
With the advent of electric and solar powered machinery and vehicles, the world is slowly moving away from crude oil. How is the sector preparing for this and what role do you think the Oil and Gas sector will play in Nigeria when this happens?
Oil and gas is a depleting resource, it cannot be replenished after use. Therefore, at some point we will get to peak production. Nigeria’s peak production was supposed to happen between 2010 and 2015, but that has been pushed back. The world population and world energy demand is constantly increasing, the world is planning for the replacement of oil and gas when peak production happens. What we are seeing now is the injection of new sources of energy into the existing energy mix. Over time as we are seeing a decline in the use of oil and gas, we are also seeing an increase in the use of renewable resources.
However unbalanced, the world must produce the energy that is required to meet the world population. A lot of people believe that we are seeing a sudden stop in the production of oil and gas because we have renewable energy. What we are seeing is a difference in the energy mix from just oil, gas and coal into oil, gas, coal and renewables. Crude oil and natural gas will remain a critical value driver in the energy basket of the world over the next 40 years. Their contribution to the total energy mix will be reducing as we are increasing the contribution of renewables. In the Nigerian economy and Africa as a whole, it will take almost a generation for us to catch up with the Western world. This is because we currently lack the infrastructure to rely solely on renewables and new sources of energy. This means that oil and gas will still remain very critical in Africa’s economy for the next 20 years.
In a statement made in a newspaper interview you noted that “Nigeria’s economy has no future if electricity crisis persists”. Can you please explain further?
Our economy is performing at 30% of its potential. The number one driver for this poor performance is electricity. The second driver is over run infrastructure and the third driver is the high level of insecurity in the nation. Without electricity it is impossible to do anything. It is a shame that the poorest countries around the world like Bangladesh have found solutions to their electricity problems and a nation like Nigeria is still dancing around. In 2020, our generation and distribution capacity is worse than it was 5 years ago. Here in Seplat, when we started our investment in gas to power, we made a projection in 2012 that the transition period for the electricity industry will be between 2012 and 2015. It is really disappointing that the government has found no solution to this problem and the sad thing is this solution is not far-fetched. It just requires courage and a few people to think strategically.
A global oil and gas company recently held a protest about the maltreatment of indigenous staff and the preferential treatment given to expatriates in the oil and gas sector. Why will you say this is happening and what can be done for our local talent to attain the knowledge expatriates currently have in order to receive benefits being accrued to them?
This is a labour problem that happens across various industries in Nigeria. We see issues like this in manufacturing companies, textile companies etc. The oil and gas industry is one sector of the economy where Nigerians have attained a lot of training and expertise. The workforce of most oil and gas multinational companies usually have over 85% of Nigerians in its senior cadre. With Nigerian companies like Seplat, our workforce is made up of 99% of Nigerians. Overall I will say the oil and gas industry stands out for exceptional skills development over the past 40 years where Nigerians can occupy any position.
Being the Chief Executive Officer of Seplat is not a small feat, you have also occupied major positions and established yourself as a force to be reckoned with in the oil and gas industry. Kindly take us through your journey and how you were able to achieve this.
I have worked in only four places throughout the course of my career. In my first 12 years of my career I was in NNPC. I was then sent out to train as a Petroleum Engineer and shortly after that I went on to work for Allied Energy Resources as an exploration and technical manager. I was one of their pioneer staff and I worked there for 10 years from 1992 to 2002. Thereafter, once we started the marginal field and indigenous participation I joined my colleagues and some of my bosses I met in NNPC then we found Platform Petroleum Limited, I was founding CEO of the company and I was there from 2002 up until 2010. I then moved on to Seplat, in 2010 as the Founding CEO of the company. This year will make it 10 years as the Founding CEO of Seplat and I will be stepping down and moving on to other things.
What career advice do you have for the new bees coming into the industry?
The most important advice I have to give anyone coming in is to be focused. Have integrity and work hard. With these you can grow and advance successfully in your career.
How do you relax and what makes you really happy?
I spend a lot of time with my family and friends.
If you were not working in the oil and gas sector what do you think you will be doing?
If I did not study Geology, I would have studied Economics or Mass Communications which means I would have been in the commercial sector. Either into banking or some commercial enterprise. Even right now in the oil and gas industry it is the commercial side of the business that tickles me the most.
Photo Credit: Bobo Iso