24 May 2017

Adebayo O. Ogunlesi, JD/MBA 1979

2017 Alumni Achievement Award Recipient
by Susan Young


Chairman and Managing Partner, Global Infrastructure Partners

As a student of philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford, Bayo Ogunlesi learned that some lectures were optional. Several weeks into the semester, attendance in one course dwindled from 150 to 100 to 10, but Ogunlesi always showed up, eventually becoming the sole student in the classroom. “The lecturer was my tutor and I didn’t want him to face an empty classroom,” says Ogunlesi.

That level of consideration for others, coupled with raw intelligence and hard work, might explain Ogunlesi’s remarkable path through the upper ranks of investment banking as well as his success building one of the world’s leading investment funds focused on infrastructure. Today he runs Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), managing a portfolio that includes Gatwick Airport, the Port of Melbourne, and East India Petroleum.

Ogunlesi arrived at Oxford having graduated at the top of his class at Kings College, the prestigious boarding school in his native Nigeria. “At Oxford, we were assigned an essay and then spent two hours discussing it with our professor. I learned to think on my feet,” he says, noting that those skills prepared him for business and law school, as well as for his career in both fields.

After being admitted to Harvard Law School, Ogunlesi realized that his aversion to numbers might hinder his success, so he submitted an application to HBS. “It was two degrees for the price of one,” he says with a laugh. Upon graduating, Ogunlesi moved to Washington, DC, where he landed a position clerking for US Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall. “That was one of the high points of my career,” he says. “Justice Marshall was a fantastic person who changed the arc of history.”

Ogunlesi then settled in New York and joined the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore for a short stint until a high school friend convinced him to consult on a project in their home country. “Serendipity works in strange ways,” observes Ogunlesi, who spent the next two decades at First Boston and its successor, Credit Suisse. While initially he joined as a legal consultant, he notes, “when they found out I knew how to read financials, they campaigned to get me to work as a banker.” It was a good fit, explains Ogunlesi, grateful to have gained experience in financing large projects, turning around struggling groups, and working with clients, all of which prepared him for his next endeavor.

“My greatest accomplishment in the business world is watching young people grow and become peers.”
“My greatest accomplishment in the business world is watching young people grow and become peers.”

In 2006, as he tells it, Ogunlesi was complaining about work to his wife, Amelia, who pointed out that he seemed miserable. That observation inspired him and five others to launch GIP. “None of us had any investing experience,” he says, “but we persuaded Credit Suisse and GE to invest.” They raised $5.64 billion for their first fund and bought 12 companies: airports, ports, pipelines, power plants, and a wind farm, to name a few. “We found that by applying some basic business techniques we could really make a difference,” he says. That simple strategy has led to GIP’s current position: The firm manages $40 billion and its portfolio of companies employs 21,000 people.

“Bayo is incredibly hardworking and more than a little bit brilliant,” says Jon Bram, a GIP cofounder. “He’s a great leader because he’s perpetually optimistic without being unrealistic. He’s also a lot of fun to work with.”

“Fun” is a word that everyone uses to describe Bayo Ogunlesi, be they colleague, friend, or family member. After 32 years of marriage and raising two sons, Bayo and Amelia Ogunlesi still seem to be in awe of each other. “She’s the most extraordinary woman,” he says. “He’s a truly amazing person,” she replies.

In marrying Amelia, Ogunlesi is following what he considers to be the secret to his own success. “Surround yourself with people who are better than you,” he advises. “Then just focus on clearing obstacles out of their way.”

Photo by Susan Young

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1979, Section E

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