HLS Alum Abedayo Ogunlesi ’79 honored by Harvard University African alumni

BY FUNGAYI WACIENI

This past Saturday, December 4, Mr. Adebayo O. Ogunlesi, JD/MBA ’79 was honored by the Harvard African Students’ Alumni Network (HASAN) as the first recipient of the HASAN Achievement Award for “consistent and superior performance in his professional career.” The Awards Banquet was held at the Sheraton Commander Hotel in Cambridge in conjunction with HASAN’s third annual Reunion and was sponsored by Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) and the Harvard Committee on African Studies. HASAN, a non-profit organization founded in May 2000, seeks to promote communication and collaboration among alumni of Harvard University to effect change in Africa and to forge a strong relationship with African students at Harvard College and the Harvard graduate schools including HLS and is open to all Harvard alumni with an interest in Africa.

Nearly one hundred guests drawn primarily from Harvard College and the Harvard graduate schools gathered at the Banquet to see Mr. Ogunlesi accept this award. Mr. Ogunlesi, who is widely known as “Bayo” by friends and colleagues, was accompanied by his wife Amelia, and several distinguished guests from CSFB where he is also a member of the Executive Board and Management Council and heads up the firm’s Chairman’s Board. In attendance were Mr. Dick Thornburgh, Executive Vice Chairman and HBS grad, Mrs. Kris Klein, Managing Director (HBS ’87), and Mr. John Harrison, Managing Director (HBS ’68), all accompanied by their spouses. Mr. Charlie Cardillo, Deputy Director of the Harvard Alumni Association, was also in attendance.

Nana Twum-Danso (AB’94, HMS ’98) and HASAN Chair welcomed Mr. Ogunlesi before Professor Charles Ogletree gave a rousing introductory toast. Professor Ogletree, a contemporary of Bayo’s at Harvard Law School and close friend, regaled the audience with anecdotes from Bayo’s time at HLS and recounted some inspirational moments that Bayo shared with Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court whom Mr. Ogunlesi clerked for after graduating from Harvard Law School. Bayo was apparently the only person to confound Justice Marshall, whom, unable to pronounce his name, called him “Obeedoogee.” Professor Ogletree paid tribute to Bayo for his torch-bearing as the first African and only the sixth individual of African descent to edit the Harvard Law Review, for his profound intellect, deep humanity and compassion and for “never having forgotten where he came from.”

Bayo’s keynote speech was replete with insight and delivered with humor and candor. After graduating with first-class honors from Oxford, Bayo applied to the J.D. program at Harvard Law School. While describing his acceptance to Harvard Law School, Bayo noted that he was one of only three international students who accepted that year – the other two coming from Saudi Arabia and Iran – and wondered whether their presence at the law school had more to do with “forty dollar a barrel oil prices” than HLS’s desire to increase the international student presence on campus. He also spoke in some detail about his transformational experiences at the Law and Business Schools, citing the interactions with and caliber of members of the faculty and particularly students, as perhaps the most enduring legacies of his four years in Cambridge. Bayo also fondly recounted his experiences as a Law Clerk to Associate Justice Marshall whom he credited as a major influence. After his clerkship, Bayo began his legal career as a corporate law attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a New York law firm where a chance engagement eventually culminated in a career move to CSFB that has now spanned over twenty years. Since joining CSFB in 1983, Mr. Ogunlesi has advised clients on strategic transactions and financings in a broad range of industries and worked on transactions in North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In the course of his tenure at CSFB, he has also served as the Global Head of Investment Banking; in addition, he has found time to teach a course in transnational investment projects in emerging countries at both Harvard and Yale Law Schools.

Bayo capped off his speech by emphasizing the heightened need to empower the African continent through sound governance, and stronger collaboration between the private and public sector. He spoke of his personal efforts in advising the government of Nigeria on matters related to foreign investment; underscoring the role that Africans can play in promoting change even while pursuing careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. In closing, he also found time to dispense some useful career advice to those present including several HLS students. Emphasizing that a career is “a marathon and not a sprint,” he advised those graduating not to be afraid to take risks and not to “fear failure.” He also exhorted the audience to “make their own luck,” surround themselves with people in their personal and professional lives who “were a lot smarter than they are,” to strive for balance between a career and personal life, and most of all, not to take themselves too seriously.

Fungayi Tichawona Kapungu (hbs ’05) & Kaniaru Wacieni (hbs ’05)

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