Andrea Cattaneo: Itinerary of a self-made man

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Although Andrea Cattaneo’s life began in Genoa (the town of Cristoforo Colombo in Italy), where he went to state school before studying economics at the University of Genoa, it was on the international front where he launched his career.

In the mid-1980s, Andrea Cattaneo joined the London Forfaiting Company (LFC), one of the world’s biggest names in forfaiting. This type of financial instrument was in vogue to finance the socialist block represented by the Soviet Union and its Satellite States (the Comecon area), China, and emerging countries in general. One of the USSR’s allies was Vietnam.

In this country, which had just won the war against the United States with great difficulties but was still, ten years after the end of the war, one of the poorest countries in the world, he organized in 1986  the first loan in the country’s history denominated in a convertible primary currency, the USD. “It was a proud moment,” he explains,” not least because of the task’s difficulty, when Vietnam was the third poorest country in the world, recovering from a devastating conflict that had left it in economic ruin.

Above all, Vietnam was a country that was viewed negatively by many Westerners, not least because it was under US sanctions. With no international banking support from the West, this financing was a real turning point for the country’s finances. The years following 1986 saw the opening of some representative offices of banks, initially French, then from different countries. Vietnam then embarked on a process of economic reform.

The Vietnamese government tried to persuade Andrea Cattaneo to sell local oil in international markets. Although he initially refused – at the time, he was CEO of LFC’s wholly-owned Italian subsidiary, London Finance – a few months later, he finally accepted the offer and left the world of finance to discover the international sector of trading and consulting.

Assisting Vietnam and other small emerging countries, Cattaneo could also use the skills learned in its first career in finance, giving financial advice to certain governments. For example, he assisted the Ministry of Finance of Poland for 3 Years. Among natural resources traded by its company, besides crude oil, there were many materials for the apparel and textile industry. In due course, Cattaneo expanded its activities to manufacturing leather and socks.

Dealing all the time with small governments, his experience caused the invitation in  2005 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to join an initiative aimed at assisting the development and cooperation of the countries forming the Greater Tumen region, i.e., China, Mongolia, North and South Korea and the Russian Federation. Andrea Cattaneo’s interest in developing countries was a constant thread throughout his life. At the end of the 2000s, Andrea Cattaneo built on his experience in the oil industry to found Zenith Energy Ltd in Canada. “In 2005, I shifted my focus from oil trading to oil and gas production and exploration”, he recalls. The international energy production and development company, founded in 2007, now expands in several countries in Central Asia, Africa, and North America.

The Canadian company is now listed on the primary market of the London Stock Exchange and the Euronext Growth market of the Oslo Stock Exchange. “Its main objective is to develop oil and gas fields in countries that offer solid asset protection and are as stable as possible,” says an oil industry source. In every country where Zenith operates, there is a genuine desire to invest massively, mainly through acquiring subsidiaries.

When the local authorities receive it, the company invests in much more than just the oil sector, such as when Zenith Energy donated medical equipment to hospitals in Zarzis, Tunisia, or sponsored the only local first-division football team. “It’s always our responsibility to repay the trust placed in us by helping local people as much as possible,” says Zenith Energy’s CEO; this sympathetic and amicable attitude is not always reciprocated and pays back.

In Tunisia, for example, the situation suddenly capsized in 2022. After a variety of breaches of the investment law made by the local authorities, Zenith is now the Applicant in three arbitrations against the Republic of Tunisia, two in the International Chamber of Commerce of Paris, and one in the ICSID, an entity created in Washington by the World Bank to protect investors confidence in bilateral treaties. The total amount of claims has reached 140.3 million USD.

For Cattaneo, the aim is still to broaden his horizons. After visiting more than 130 countries, the Italian is now setting his sights on the West. His sights are set on the United States. “I feel more secure when investing there,” comments Cattaneo. Betting on the world’s largest economy is an obvious choice.

However, as a Genoese explorer, initially, his most natural inclination was to work and help poor countries. Motivated by a sense of social and environmental duty, Cattaneo explains his position on the subject of the energy transition: “Certainly the hydrocarbons production shall in due course disappear; but the global planning has gone somehow wrong, as in the last two years the production of energy by burning coal has greatly increased.

Then coal, the most polluting of all fuels, is consumed much more today than in the past. It’s a paradox. Producing energy with natural gas, as we do, is still greatly more ecological. My honest and realistic view is that we will continue to do so for another 20 years.