Interview with CEO of Global Pacific & Partners

February 25, 2015 | Interview with Regional Executives

With over 45 years’ experience in economics worldwide, but particularly in Africa, Dr Duncan Clarke, Chairman and CEO of Global Pacific & Partners, the worldwide oil and gas research, advisory, strategy briefing, events  and oil media firm, has a lot to say about Africa’s oil economy yesterday, today and tomorrow. Through a series of economic and business models and programs spanning the worldwide oil and gas industry, with country-specific understanding and what appears to be an unrivalled bank of insider knowledge, Global Pacific & Partners is working to change the way we think about Africa’s oil and gas industry. It’s a monumental task, informing and shaping global understanding and shredding misconceptions, but Clarke and the company have been committed to this for a long time now.

In this exclusive interview, Dr Duncan Clarke talks about how Global Pacific & Partners is reshaping understanding of the oil and gas industry for the better and what it really takes to do just that.

Let’s set the scene. How did you kick off four decades ago and what led you to found Global Pacific and Partners?

Duncan Clarke: In the decade before entering into oil and gas, in the late 1970’s, I taught economics in Africa and acted as an advisor to institutions and business for a wide range of clients in and on Africa. When later in Geneva, from 1978, I was doing extensive work on the continent for private companies, governments and multilateral agencies, and was asked (then during the Cold War) to do research and advisory tasks on oil. These beginnings formed the seeds of our company’s origins. One major report was on Western African oil and country risks done in 1982 that I wrote for what was then Petroconsultants SA, followed by a similar report on the Southeast Asian oil industry. In mid-1985, I was invited to join them in Geneva to run their worldwide economics division, later make their acquisitions in Singapore and Australia, and then subsequently move to Sydney to run their new office and global economics group from Australia. In 1988, I once again reformed my own firm, took on Tim Zoba Jr as a senior partner in our Houston office (later in 1994 adding Babette van Gessel to our partnership in the Johannesburg office), and we have since then renewed our independent role under the Global Pacific & Partners label, which has now evolved into what it does around the world today in terms of advisory, research, a suite of international conferences for senior executives, each one a long-standing and landmark event and aligned with unique in-depth strategy briefings that we conduct on five continents. That’s the short story.

Today our two key operating offices at the moment are: The Hague — where we execute a lot of our global programs for conferences, administration, marketing for the development of technologies that drive our business — and also Johannesburg which is similarly structured, but with myself here this is our centre for advisory and research and the base from which I conduct our many strategy briefings, not only in South Africa but throughout Africa and across the world in Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Europe and Australasia. For our London operations, where we have had a company active for over a decade, we now have a representative and likewise so in Rio de Janeiro for our Brazil and Latin American business.

So with the global spread in place, let’s turn our attention to the events arm of the company. What’s coming up? The 17th Africa Oil Week 2010 running November 1-5 certainly looks like a huge conference and a good place to start?

Duncan Clarke: It’s the largest conference in the world for oil and gas in or on Africa all around the globe and typically brings in 750-800 people from the top drawer in companies, governments and state oil players in Africa (and from elsewhere) — large, medium, small and other. It’s got our Scramble for Africa strategy briefing as the front end of that which has been running for 12 years now, typically attended by senior management. We also have our 4th Australasian Energy Pacesetters Conference coming up in Perth in the beginning of August, and our 8th Maghreb & Mediterranean Oil & Gas Conference in Marrakech in late November. Meanwhile we’re working on our 2011 programmes for the coming year. We will now be bringing a few new events to the market next year. One will be on Atlantic Ocean Oil & Gas in Lisbon. The second will be on our Indian Ocean Oil & Gas, held in Mauritius. A third event, to be connected to our 12th Southern African Oil, Gas & Energy conference, is a wider, high-level meeting on Africa — the Africa Economic Forum 2011. That’s going to interface the oil/gas and energy industry with a lot of other corporate players, primary and secondary industries and multiple financial and interest groups engaged in the rising emergence of Africa’s economy, particularly looking at it from, as traditionally is our case, the corporate and business angle. It’s not about politics, it’s not about the soft issues, it’s about the hard-nosed business questions and developments taking place across the continent that we expect to have a transformative effect over the next few decades.

And how about on the research and advisory side? I see that since inception, Global Pacific & Partners has conducted advisory work for more than 70 governments and corporate clients as a continuing business. How is that coming along today?

Duncan Clarke: We do four or five of these a year effectively, depending on demand. We don’t look for advisory business, we only respond to requests.  Our worldwide research is ongoing and continuous; it follows the oil and gas industry in Africa, Asia-Australasia, Latin America, the Middle East and for all national oil companies around the world. We’ve just put to bed the new third edition of my book, Africa, Crude Continent: The Struggle for Africa’s Oil Prize, [Profile Books] released mid-year and already available on Amazon, on which CNBC-Africa is now finalising a TV-film documentary to be released in September and shown throughout Africa through their broad television footprint around the continent.

I understand that this book is not your first. Let’s talk about the different publications you have already penned and how they tie in with the research and economics work of Global Pacific & Partners.

Duncan Clarke: We’ve conducted research for a good 30 years on oil and gas, and built up knowledge on nearly all the countries in world petroleum and over 150 companies as well as almost all state oil companies worldwide going back to the 80’s and the 90’s. From the end of the last century we basically converted that into a 21st century “model” of knowledge-base transfer by building the intensive high-content strategy briefings which we deliver across the world. As such, we don’t write much text anymore. Our communications mode is oral, direct, in briefings, with typically each with 900 graphics images, all done in one day. However in 2007 I wrote my first book, called The Battle for Barrels, [Profile Books, London] which was a critique of the theory and evidence on peak oil to show that the theory and models used were very flawed, the evidence lacking and that the world is not going to run out of oil anytime soon, while the production peak is some decades away at least. This was followed up soon thereafter by a second work on 21st century corporate oil strategy that our publisher asked for, [Empires of Oil: Corporate Oil in Barbarian Worlds, also by Profile Books] about the new upstream paradigm in world oil and gas exploration, the rise of resource nationalism, the issues confronting companies about strategies for the future and this built on a model alike the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, if you wish, without the same dramatic finale.

What is the focus for Crude Continent? Does this follow on from these previous works? Is there a trend in the books, or is each seeking to tackle given issues separately?

Duncan Clarke: Each book focuses on a separate but critical world issue in oil and gas. Because of my particular background; being born and raised in Zimbabwe, beginning as an economist and working in Africa for many decades, travelling the entire continent, and engaged in advisory work for a number of institutions and private companies, I’d also developed this interest in oil and gas in Africa. We [Global Pacific and Partners] were the first to write a big report on this in Africa, following corporate oil strategies and country risk since the early 80’s. Subsequently we followed that with wider, global and in-depth research on the entire developing world. Then, of course, the modern scramble for Africa added new dynamics and complexities in Africa, which led to Crude Continent, with its first hardback edition coming out in 2008. [The book] looks at the whole continent over a century and the competition between companies, the corporate oil quest and the old and continuing Great Power interest in Africa’s oil and gas. It diagnoses each country’s oil game as well; its own historic evolution, political and policy dilemmas, and competitive position and it seeks to portray not only our extensive knowledge base about African hydrocarbons but it provides a critique of also almost all the key tracts in economics and social sciences, trying to interpret Africa’s state of play, dynamics, socioeconomic drivers and complexions which have long bedevilled many inside and especially outside of the continent. Beyond that it offers a series of ideas and concepts, including a new economics model, on how better (indeed, best) to understand the state of Africa and how oil and gas fits into its past, present and future conjunctures. In this particular latest version, with a new Epilogue, I’ve also tackled several public and media myths about the continent and its complex oil game, disputing diverse theories and “evidence” so-claimed about the “oil curse” in Africa, and raised new questions about some foreign state oil companies, notably players from China (with the Chinafrique model rapidly emerging), and also the critical drivers of corporate edge in Africa today, and about what works, who has succeeded and for others, why not. It’s a path that we continue to plough — in Africa and elsewhere.

Great. It seems like both the company and your publications really assist each other. What is it about Global Pacific & Partners that differs from your counterparts, thus enabling you to go the extra mile and achieve such long-running, diverse success?

Duncan Clarke: I think we have probably got one of the longest track records for above-ground oil research and track records in advisory and strategy in the upstream, not only around the world but certainly in Africa. Our knowledge base in Africa — not just on oil — is probably unrivalled because we have direct experience for over four decades across and in 46 countries (part of the 120 we have visited on oil and gas business around the globe), and we have known most of the key players for many years. We began to “do” Latin America around two decades ago, and been active in Asia for close to three decades. In our strategy briefings, we’re unique in that nobody does anything like what we do there. We brief around 300 corporate and government clients a year through these strategy briefings in Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, London, Singapore, Perth, Nairobi, Marrakesh, Lagos and elsewhere. Our conference suite has a 20-year track record, we’re known for world-class quality and seamless delivery of our proprietary events, from conception through to execution. Our firm has global reach, and we deliver private, ex-gratia benefits each day to over 30,000 executives in the world industry. In our PetroAfricanus Exploration Club, with guest speakers and dinners held around Africa, we have hosted well over 2,500 executives. These Clubs, networks really, we also operate in four other continents. No-one else comes close to this scope and innovation. We have also built-up an exceptional blue-chip delegate base, what I reckon likely to be the best management contacts database worldwide created over several decades (and over 36,000 strong), and a wide set of close and typically personal client relationships, combined with a small highly-professional team and top-of the line technologies. I’m not saying other people don’t have this but these are our main differentiating features. In one small company such as ours, there isn’t an analogue of our type. Other people do conferences, some on oil today but on golf balls tomorrow, some are on the downstream, others (too many nowadays) are ill-informed or fly-by-night. A lot of them are hit-and-run artists, a few (even large ones) blatantly dishonest in their plugs, publicity and promotions. I know of none but us who’ve got the 20-year track record on five continents with the background that we put together from our front-end strategy briefings and knowledge base, top-quality speaker programs, with intimate networking and social functions for the players, the companies, the governments, and also the pro bono invitees we usually accommodate, including our Young Professionals and new graduates from Universities.

So what happens next? What are your strategic goals and plans for the coming year? It’s clearly shaping up to be a busy one with your planned and proposed events and ongoing research.

Duncan Clarke: We’re constantly monitoring the industry and selective specifics. I’m in the process of something that will come to market probably late next year or in 2012, about the African continent, a new book that will be wider than oil and gas. It will be about interpreting Africa’s economic past, present and future, and looking at it through our models which we’ve worked with over forty years, in fact going back to original ideas from my PhD in the early seventies. This will hopefully seek to offer a new set of analytic explanations on Africa, its past century of transitions, connected evolutionary paths and future economic dynamics. I’ll not be trying to advocate policy or offer advice, except maybe implicitly in the context of ex-cathedra prognoses about what could happen based on theory, evidence and critique of what has happened. [There’s still great ambiguity] about actually understanding how Africa came to be what it is today, and indeed much contestation, as found in the “writing of Africa”. This has huge implications. Only by understanding what’s actually taken place can one hope to shape models to best develop the African world. This is something that is I think lacking, and I’ve been working on the matter for quite some years. Our firm also has a fair number of associated pro bono activities that we undertake and have done for many years in terms of assisting young professionals, of having partnerships in global energy with national and international institutions, some global, others in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Our aim is to build further in this arena. We also have a very large and substantial world oil and gas strategy database, so we are intending to open up access to it for the wider industry. We’re also the founders of the African Institute of Petroleum going back to the mid 1990’s, which has been re-launched as an industry private lobby to communicate key industry oil/gas issues confronting operators and investors in the upstream to the African governments, ministries and state oil companies, this to be done through the Institute’s “State of Africa 2010” report which will be released to all governments in late July. Beyond all that, our well-known Petro21 Daily Oil & Gas News is now sent to 12,500 executives each day, so we will seek to double that target, while together with our other 25 Weekly Newsletters covering the globe, with breaking news from inside the industry, this has created a highly-targeted and unique marketing platform for advertising and corporate branding that we shall now seek to build and expand.

The work continues on then! Thanks so much for your time today, Dr Clarke. Are there any other messages you would like to leave us with as we close our piece? Any defining factors for Global Pacific & Partners?

Duncan Clarke: We don’t do geoscience. We don’t do things that we do not understand and we will not accept an advisory unless we know that we can accomplish it at world-class level, and then it’s restricted to strategy. We aim to remain as number one in our worldwide conference suite, and in Africa. We will make our strategy briefings better each year, as has occurred to date. We will remain small in team size, and build on our continuous flow of new ideas while investing in selective and typically our home-grown technologies as tools to sustain competitive edge. Maybe we’re also different to a few competitors in several respects — they often have different fish to fry — we stick to our knitting, knowledge and strengths.

For more about Global Pacific & Partners, please visit

Interview conducted by Nuala Gallagher of IRJ.