Executive Insider

Why oil and gas start-ups need people power

January 05, 2012

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People. It truly is all about the people.  As we begin the new year of 2012, I am reflecting on the experiences I have had in this business, the good and the bad. Running a company in this sector is no cakewalk. We are subject to the unpredictable volatility of commodity pricing, global political instability and the great technical complexities of bringing oil and gas out of Mother Earth. But it’s always the character of the people I have been with that have made or broke an idea or a business.

That’s certainly true when you are involved in a start-up oil company. It is a lot of work and these firms don’t have the resources a big company has − the staffing, the money, and the safety of being able to make small mistakes. At my first start-up, my desk was a door that I put fold-down metals legs on and brought in from home. The door handle hole made a handy spot for a cup of pens and rulers. We used to go down to Home Depot to get six fluorescent lights for $12, which was a lot cheaper than letting the building staff put them in at $25 apiece. But this isn’t a discussion of “when I was a kid I had to walk five miles uphill, both ways, to school”.  It’s really my thoughts about the character that is suited to build something from the ground floor based on an idea.

I have a friend who I will always recall saying on many occasions: “Any engineer can kill a project, that’s the easiest thing to do.” But what is hard to do is make a novel technology or a new company work in a competitive environment like the oil and gas sector. And to do that, you need the right people

So what attributes does a company like Terrex Energy look for in the people that make up its team? Essentially, you need people who are technically competent, have good common business sense, are hard workers, know how to sell, and have trust in each other.

To be technically competent is pretty straight forward. But the value is to have more than rote knowledge; you have to be creative and open to new ideas. Many technically accomplished people are not, which is why there are opportunities in this business for those who are.

Many technical people are also not business people by nature. But if you can marry the two qualities, you have an excellent partner. Hard work is another requirement, not all the time, but absolutely when it’s needed. Sometimes the work is very intense for fairly long periods of time.

Then there is the “sell” aspect of being in a start-up company. You have to believe in your idea to be able to sell it. Some people are such purists in their science that they let the details of some parts of a project interfere with the greater concept and the potential of an idea. That’s not good.

Last but not least, a good team is based on trust and respect. You need to truly believe that each person is doing the best they can for the greater good. I’ve been in situations where the tempers and words are flying but it’s never personal. What happened to cause the ruckus may have been stupid, but the person wasn’t.

I have worked with some remarkable people over my career. And I’m working with remarkable people now at Terrex Energy. You can never have enough of them in this business.

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Kim Davies is the president and CEO of Terrex Energy Inc., a Calgary-based junior oil company. She blogs regularly for Alberta Oil, providing insight on the world of oil and gas entrepreneurship.

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