I am a self-made man and everything that I have achieved in life has been down to my hard work. I grew up in Italy, went to a state school and completed my studies with an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Genoa and a postgraduate degree in Taxation Law from the University of Bologna.
After university I began my working life as a banker with specific expertise in dealing with the Soviet Block and I worked for a merchant bank specialising in export finance to socialist countries.
I was then headhunted by the LFC (London Forfaiting Company Ltd, London) which later became one of the biggest names in the forfaiting field. At this time, 1986, I achieved what I consider to be one of my proudest accomplishments (especially on account of my then relatively young age): organising the first convertible currency loan in the history of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, then one of the world’s poorest countries and still in a state of severe economic hardship from the war.
I syndicated the loan by bringing together a small consortium of banks headed by a Polish bank, Bank Handlowy International (Luxembourg) SA (I would later became an advisor to the Polish Ministry of Finance). With the additional participation of SACE (Italian Export Insurance Entity), the loan was finally signed and approved. This was no easy task as Vietnam was viewed very negatively by many in the West and suffering from stringent sanctions imposed by the USA.
Prior to this deal no international bank had any presence in Vietnam. The only direct contact with the Western world was an Air France flight from Paris to Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the war.
The facility was also made possible because Vietnam was undergoing systematic economic reform and transitioning from centralised economic planning, a hallmark of Socialist models of economic organisation, to a quasi-capitalist form of ‘Socialist-orientated market economy’. In 1986 Vietnam began a further cycle of economic reform, a policy shift named ‘Doi Moi’ (meaning ‘Renovation’) that effectively inaugurated a new economic order wherein private enterprises and foreign-owned enterprises became possible and the role of the private sector became increasingly important.
As historian Donald B. Freeman has underlined (Geographical Review, April 1996), ‘the main goals of Doi Moi were to improve lagging productivity, to raise living standards, and to curb rapid inflation, which reached almost 500 percent a year in the mid- 1980s’. This set of policies ‘would reestablish a multi-sector economy driven by private enterprise under government supervision’. In effect, this entirely unforeseen reversal of economic policy put forward by the Communist Party’s Central Committee and ratified by the Sixth Party Congress in 1986 made Vietnam the first, to quote Freeman again, ‘Soviet Bloc nation to formally take the capitalist road’. This was a great time for Vietnam; economic change and prosperity almost immediately became apparent as liberalisation began.
Before this deal I had been appointed CEO of the Italian fully-owned subsidiary of the LFC, named London Finance SpA.
During my work in Vietnam I developed good relations with the Vietnamese Government, and I was offered the opportunity to trade Vietnamese crude oil on international markets. The offer was a sign of the Government’s trust and gratitude for having arranged the first international loan in the post-war period, especially as many other banks began to follow suit and establish themselves in the country as the economic potential of Vietnam became increasingly apparent. Being a banker, I at first did not take up this offer. However, within a year, I changed my mind, left a promising career in finance, and returned to Vietnam to explore the opportunity. Surprisingly, the offer was still valid, time seemed to pass rather more slowly in those days. I therefore became an oil entrepreneur, establishing a trading company specialised in oil, textile and hide transactions in Vietnam and, later, Africa.
Whilst active in oil and textile trading I continued working in the former Soviet Bloc and other socialist countries, acting as a consultant to government bodies in Poland, Vietnam and China.
Producing wine has been a life-long passion and an activity which has given me great joy. This is something I pursue on the side with limited production numbers, providing a fitting distraction from the production of oil & gas which consumes most of my time. Some of my wines have achieved notable awards and recognitions.
One of my wines won the ‘Best of Tuscany’ award in the London International Wine and Spirit Competition.
Other awards include a top rating in Wine Spectator for my 2001 Brunello di Montalcino.
Greater Tumen Initiative
I was invited to join the Business Advisory Council of the Greater Tumen Initiative (GTI) – a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sponsored project with the aim of ‘strengthening economic and technical cooperation, and attaining greater growth and sustainable development in NEA (NortheastAsia) and the Greater Tumen Region’. I also held the position of GTI Energy Sector Coordinator. At the time of my involvement the Initiative included the participation of China, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation.
From oil trading to upstream oil & gas production – Zenith
In 2007, after a period of oil trading and consultancy in the oil & gas sector, I founded Zenith Energy Ltd., an international energy production and development company, incorporated in Canada, with a group of fellow oil industry professionals.
Zenith is currently completing a potentially transformational acquisition campaign in Africa, specifically in the Republic of the Congo and Tunisia, having revised its strategic direction towards pursuing large-scale oil and gas production and development opportunities in Africa.
Zenith will actively evaluate any value accretive opportunities to further strengthen and balance its portfolio, including a renewable energy production activity, to enable our enterprise to further evolve into a balanced, modern and forward-looking energy company.