Chairman and chief executive officer, CAMAC Holdings; vice chairman, Port of Houston Authority Commission
Born: 1954, in Ibadan, Nigeria.
Education: Texas Southern University, BS, 1976; Prairie View A&M, MBA, 1978.
Family: Married Eileen (maiden name unknown; co-owner, CAMAC); children: three.
Career: Shell Oil Refining Company, 1975–1977, process engineer; Dresser Industries, 1977–1979, research chemist; Suncrest Investment Corporation, 1980–1982, vice president; Baker Investments, 1982–1986, president; CAMAC Holdings, 1986–, chief executive officer and president; Port of Houston Authority Board of Commissioners, 1999–2000, commissioner; 2000–, vice chairman; Allied Energy Corporation, 1991–, chairman.
Awards: USAfrica Business Person of the Year, USAfrica The Newspaper , 1997.
Address: CAMAC Holdings, 4669 Southwest Freeway, Suite 600, Houston, Texas 77027; http://www.camacholdings.com.
■ Kase Lukman Lawal quietly developed one of the largest African American–owned businesses in the United States by exploiting the oil riches of Africa. The company Lawal founded and led was CAMAC Holdings, an international oil exploration, refining, and trading company with more than one thousand employees in the United States and the Republic of South Africa. In 2002 CAMAC was named the largest African American–owned company on the Black Enterprise 100s list. Analysts described Lawal as a politically well-connected risk taker who aimed to promote black empowerment around the globe.
Growing up in Nigeria, Lawal knew at an early age that he would run a business, but he remained uncertain about his choice of enterprise. Lawal's decision to immigrate to the United States was an easier one even though he had adamant opposition from his father. The senior Lawal feared for his son's safety and doubted his ability to adjust to the American way of education. Eager to be part of the civil rights struggle, Lawal ignored his father's objections and arrived in the United States in the early 1970s. He moved to Houston in 1972 to attend Texas Southern University. On leaving college Lawal worked in the oil industry as an engineer and chemist.
When Lawal began CAMAC (which stands for Cameroon-American) in 1986, the small company traded agricultural commodities such as sugar, tobacco, and rice. Befitting the firm's humble beginnings 80 percent of the company was owned by Lawal, his wife, and three children, the remainder being divided among Lawal's brothers and sisters. CAMAC moved into the oil business in 1989 after Rilwanu Lukman, at the time the president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, urged Lawal to change focus from agriculture to oil exploration, which was much more lucrative. The encounter was a demonstration of Lawal's excellent political contacts in oil-rich Nigeria.
To obtain funds for oil exploration, CAMAC went into partnership with the giant Houston-based oil company Conoco in 1991. While Conoco had money, CAMAC owned the rights to blocks of land in Africa where exploration would take place. In 2002 the partnership was producing more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day. Despite this success Lawal decided to move away from exploration. "We used to produce oil and rely on someone to sell it," said Lawal in 2002. "We decided that we could get contracts and assemble a risk management team that could deal with the volatility of selling oil and gas," he added (Hughes, June 2002).
Exploration and production were the main sources of CAMAC's income, but trading provided the most revenue. As a result of changing in 1998 to an integrated business that provided both upstream and downstream services, CAMAC achieved impressive revenue growth. The company posted revenues of $114.26 million in 1999, $571.54 million in 2000, and $979.5 million in 2001. Upstream services included the exploration and production of oil and gas; downstream services involved the trading and refining of products.
The oil business in the United States faced expensive environmental upgrades to reduce the amount of sulfur in the fuel produced. To avoid this expense, CAMAC in 2002 moved equipment from its Blue Island Refinery in Illinois for reassembly at a newly developed refinery complex in Cape Province (Cape of Good Hope), Republic of South Africa. The object was to refine 13,000 barrels a day. George Beranek, the manager of market analysis at the Petroleum Finance Company, said that the move made good business sense because the equipment could be run where specifications were not as stringent. Lawal denied that CAMAC's standards would be compromised and defended the move as encouraging more blacks to "get involved in the oil industry as entrepreneurs" (Hughes, June 2002).
Lawal was highly visible in the Houston community and dedicated approximately 60 percent of his time to public service. As a member of the Port of Houston Authority Commission, Lawal helped to establish the port's Small Business Development Program to award contracts to Houston-area businesses and developed memorandum of friendship agreements with 20 ports, mostly in South Africa and other countries in Africa. By providing management consulting and technical assistance to foreign ports, Lawal helped Houston to maintain its international presence and its flourishing import-export trade. As of 2004 the port of Houston was first in the United States in foreign tonnage and included the nation's largest petrochemical complex. "He's very behind the scenes—he doesn't do things for a lot of fanfare," observed Houston City Council member Carol Alvarado in 2002 (Anderson, August 9, 2002). Lawal was a director of the Cullen Engineering Research Foundation; a member of the United States Trade Advisory Committee on Africa; a member of the boards of directors of Cape Investment Holdings, the Greater Houston Partnership, and the Houston Airport System Development Corporation; and chairman of the Houston Mayoral Advisory Board on International Affairs and Development.
Anderson, Lauren Bayne, "Black Entrepreneur Takes Top Honors Only Reluctantly," Houston Chronicle , August 9, 2002.
Hensel, Bill, Jr., "Commissioner Wins Reappointment," Houston Chronicle , June 14, 2003.
Hughes, Alan, "A New Leader Emerges," Black Enterprise 32, no. 11 (June 2002), p. 127.
—Caryn E. Neumann