Bonavista Energy, Newalta Corp. CEOs share tips for success
There is more than one way to get your oil patch dream job
Do your career goals include managing capital budgets that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars? How about getting thousands of employees all pulling in the same direction? If you answered “yes” to both of those questions and the volatility of the oil and gas market registers pretty low on your list of, “things that require having a defibrillator nearby,” then aiming for the upper ranks of an oil and gas company might be a tangible goal.
And there is no better place to start than in Calgary. Homegrown fully integrated industry giants (think Suncor Energy Inc. and Imperial Oil Ltd.) have been joined in Cowtown by major international players like France’s Total E&P and Norway’s Statoil. As well, hundreds of mid-cap and junior oil and gas producers call Calgary home.
With all the companies and a constrained labor market creating very favorable conditions for job seekers, opportunities for advancement are seemingly limitless. “There are a lot of companies and it’s very competitive, so there tends to be a lot of movement with people,” says Keith MacPhail, CEO of Bonavista Energy Corp.
But is changing companies to seek out a promotion the best strategy to climbing the corporate ladder? Or would someone be better served keeping their nose to the grindstone and waiting for promotions with their current employer?
MacPhail broke into the oil and gas industry with Merland Exploration, operating in the shallow gas plays near his hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta. He worked there for a couple of years after getting a business education at Medicine Hat College. MacPhail moved to Calgary to further his education and worked at Poco Petroleums Ltd. before moving on to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL).
With CNRL, MacPhail worked his way up to executive vice-president and COO. He’s served as the chief executive of Bonavista for 14 years, and having worked for only four companies since joining the oil and gas industry more than 30 years ago, MacPhail looks favorably upon company loyalty. “It goes back to patience,” he says. “It’s human nature to want more, to expect more and think the grass is greener on the other side. But it isn’t always greener.
“There are a lot of companies out there and some are good, while some are not; some have good management, while others don’t. If you’re developing in a role and see a good career path laid out, stick with that company and be patient.”
Al Cadotte, president and CEO with Newalta Corp., holds a similar view on which career trajectory is a more favorable path. “Staying within a company is probably preferred,” he says. “You have tenure, you have loyalty and you understand the company. Changing companies wouldn’t be my first choice. People should look to change companies when they stop learning.”
While having a thirst for knowledge and a desire to learn new skills is one of the reasons Cadotte was able to rise to the chief executive ranks, he doesn’t begrudge people who move on to advance their careers. “If we can’t give you the opportunity to progress, learn and advance, then we rejoice the fact that you could go somewhere else and be successful,” Cadotte says. “We’ve had several people leave to get more experience and come back in advanced positions.”
Of course, when it comes to the oil and gas industry in Alberta, there’s another way to become a chief executive – start your own company. “The other route is the entrepreneur route. Build big projects, manage budgets and do it on time; and that track record is something they can sell to the investment community for new capital funds,” says Tim Marchant, professor of strategy and energy geopolitics at the University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business.
“Calgary is probably the best example of the entrepreneur model,” he says. “It has an open business climate and low barriers to entry in the oil and gas industry. If you have a good team and good ideas, it’s one of the easiest places in the world to start a company.”