Adebayo Ogunlesi (HBS ’79) honored by Harvard African Alumni

This past Saturday, December 4th, Mr. Adebayo O. Ogunlesi (HLS/HBS ’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.” Mr. Ogunlesi, currently Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Client Officer of Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), was also the Keynote Speaker at HASAN’s Annual Banquet which was held at the Sheraton Commander Hotel in Cambridge in conjunction with HASAN’s third Annual Reunion. The Banquet was sponsored by CSFB and the Harvard Committee on African Studies.

Founded in May 2000, HASAN is a non-profit organization which seeks to promote communication and collaboration among alumni of Harvard University to effect change at Harvard and in Africa. Through forging strong relationships among African students at Harvard College and the Harvard graduate schools, HASAN hopes to foster a seamless transition from student life to the alumni community with regards to engagement and activism in matters pertaining to Africa. Membership is open to all Harvard alumni with an interest in Africa.

Nearly one hundred guests drawn primarily from HASAN members, students from Harvard College, several Harvard graduate schools including HBS, as well as students from Tufts, MIT and other neighboring schools, gathered at the Banquet to honor and celebrate Mr. Ogunlesi. Mr. Ogunlesi, who is widely known as “Bayo” by friends and colleagues, was accompanied by his wife Amelia, and several distinguished guests from CSFB. 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 present.

Professor Charles Ogletree, Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, 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, his profound intellect, deep humanity and compassion and for “never having forgotten where he came from.” He recounted Bayo’s stellar performance at HLS initially as a student and then as an adjunct faculty member, teaching a popular course on transnational investments in emerging countries during the winter sessions. As the first African and only the sixth ever individual of African descent to edit the Harvard Law Review, Professor Ogletree proclaimed Bayo as a torchbearer and much deserving of the HASAN Achievement Award.

After the presentation of the Award by the HASAN Chair, Nana A.Y. Twum-Danso (AB’94, HMS ’98), Bayo delivered his keynote address to a rapt audience. The speech was replete with insight and laced with humor and candor. Describing his acceptance to Harvard Law School as one of three international students at the time-the other two coming from Saudi Arabia and Iran-he wondered whether this had perhaps more to do with “forty dollar a barrel oil prices” than HLS’ desire to increase the international student presence on campus. He spoke in some detail about his transformational experiences at both the Law and Business School, citing the interactions with faculty and students of high intellectual caliber, as perhaps the most enduring legacy 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 top-tier law firm in New York where a chance engagement eventually culminated in a career move to CSFB that has now spanned over twenty years. Since joining the Firm 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 his concluding remarks, Bayo emphasized the need for African countries to improve governance, increasingly partner with the private sector and thereby foster an enabling environment so as to aggressively compete for foreign investment with the rest of the world. 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. He also dispensed some useful career advice to those present.

Emphasizing that a career is “a marathon and not a sprint,” he advised the students and young professionals in the room 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.

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