- Leads BDO’s restructuring practice for energy, chemicals, renewables
- Resume includes Koch, Enron, BP, operating-partner work
- Still seeing bankruptcies in power generation, oilfield services, drilling, shipping
Basil Karampelas has been all around the energy sector, as an investment banker, corporate development professional, operating partner, interim CEO and now restructuring consultant with accounting and advisory firm BDO.
“We do a lot of work on the creditor side, representing unsecured creditor committees as their financial advisers,” Karampelas said. The goal when he joined in 2016 “was really to help us further expand our presence on the other side of the coin,” working with debtors, lenders and sponsors.
Based in Houston, Karampelas lately has been occupied with “a hybrid M&A/strategic consulting assignment” on behalf of a $20 billion-plus private equity firm with a portfolio company looking to commercialize a new oilfield-services technology.
“They’ve hired our team to help them reach out to the right set of strategic partners because it’s a relatively small company and they don’t have the bandwidth to do that on their own,” Karampelas said. He added that it’s a good opportunity to use his experience in private capital, industry and advisory simultaneously.
At Wasserstein Perella in the mid-1990s, Karampelas pitched to Koch Industries, which responded with a job offer. “It got me out of the role of pitching and spending more time on the execution side because I would have a captive client,” he said. Karampelas was tasked with identifying divestiture and acquisition prospects.
Then Enron came calling, presenting a chance to work globally. “The whole company was just a beehive of activity,” Karampelas recalled. “There were so many different things going on. It was like the proverbial hydra, the monster with many different heads.” He opened the company’s Sydney office, which grew to 50 people from four in a year.
By summer 2001, CEO Jeffrey Skilling had resigned and Enron was obviously in trouble: “They downsized the corporate developed function significantly, so I left in October, about two months before the company ultimately collapsed.” While it was initially “very difficult, frankly, to get people to talk to you if you had Enron on your resume,” by now the company is recognized as having been “a great training ground,” Karampelas said. “There’s a strong sense of camaraderie among Enron people. We feel we’ve been Drexelfied.”
Karampelas went back to banking, heading up PwC’s energy operation. Following a stint in merchant banking at BP, he joined a hedge fund as operating partner. It was 2008, and before long he was in the thick of multiple restructurings.
His most notable assignment was serving as interim CEO of HelioSphera, a Greek solar manufacturer. Chinese companies were flooding the market with cheap panels; HelioSphera’s products were superior aesthetically and performed better under certain conditions, so “the whole challenge was finding the right market to focus on, where those characteristics would be appealing to buyers.”
Today, “we’re not seeing the heavy E&P [bankruptcy] activity that we saw early on in the down-cycle,” Karampelas said. “Now it’s starting to manifest itself in other subsectors, such as power generation.” Oilfield services, drilling and transportation are still seeing significant effects. Some banks and PE firms are holding off on pushing companies in the expectation that prices will recover.
“We’re on our third winter of thinking that we’ll be at 70, 80, 90 dollars by the end of the year. … That may not be the case, and we may be in this 30-to-60 band for an even longer period.”
Basil Karampelas, managing director, BDO Consulting. Photo courtesy of the firm.