(CNN) — Nigerian-born entrepreneur Kase Lawal is the epitome of the American dream. Arriving to the US a young, idealistic student, Lawal has carved a name for himself in one of the most competitive industries in the world: Oil.
Now head of a multi-billion dollar empire, his Houston-based company, CAMAC, is one of the largest black-owned businesses in the U.S., generating over $2 billion dollars a year.
Founded nearly 25 years ago, Lawal built CAMAC (which stands for Cameroon-American) from a small agriculture business into a global oil company. But it’s taken a lot of hard work, determination and guts to get him to the top.
Born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria in 1954, Lawal became interested in America and its civil rights movement during his teens. After finally persuading his father, a local politician, to send him to university in America, Lawal headed to Georgia and then Houston, where he attended the Texas Southern University.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering in 1976, Lawal, like many of his classmates, started out as a graduate in the energy industry. First as a chemist for Dresser Industries (now Halliburton) and then as a chemical engineer with Shell Oil Refining Co.
During this time he met his wife, Eileen through a mutual friend and had his three children.
Now married and settled, it wasn’t long before the innovative young Nigerian started to implement his business ideas.
In 1986 he established CAMAC, a company trading agricultural commodities such as sugar, tobacco and rice. In the early 90s he made the leap into the energy sector after the Nigerian government started to develop its energy market.
With his knowledge of Nigeria and his Houston address, Lawal was ideally positioned to attract major oil companies. In 1991 CAMAC made a deal with the oil giant Conoco, agreeing to jointly operate and share production from any Nigerian discoveries.
This turned out to be Lawal’s big break.
With his political contacts, local market knowledge and now with the backing of a major oil firm, Lawal’s Houston-based company became an instant player in the energy industry.
As Lawal told CNN: “That partnership I believe was the cornerstone of the CAMAC that you know today. Subsequently with that credibility and the advantage of partnering with Conoco, we were also able to partner with BP and also with Statoil of Norway and currently we have made a partnership with Eni, the largest Italian company, which is one of the top five oil companies in the world.”
Now CAMAC has offices in London, Johannesburg, Lagos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria and is involved in oil exploration, refining and trading.
He was awarded the USAfrica Business Person of the Year in 1997 and in 2002 CAMAC was named the largest African-American owned company on the Black Enterprise 100s list.
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