At Encana Corp., CFO Sherri Brillon plays the spoiler

Alberta Oil C-Suite Energy Executive Awards

January 01, 2013

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Sherri Brillon, CFO of Encana Corp.: “It was a tough role to be in to say, ‘We need a Plan B here just in case.’ ”
Photograph Curtis Comeau

Sherri Brillon is used to playing the spoiler. “They call me prudence,” she says. The “they” in question are senior managers and executive colleagues at Calgary-based Encana Corp., Canada’s largest natural gas producer by volume.

Brillon, Encana’s chief financial officer and recipient of the 2012 Alberta Oil C-Suite Energy Executive Award for top financial officer at a Canadian energy company, takes the nickname in stride. “I’m a worrier,” she shrugs, during an interview at Encana’s Bankers Hall offices in downtown Calgary.

Anxiety ran high in mid-2011, as Encana entered an agreement that would have seen it trade a 50 per cent stake in its Cutbank Ridge shale gas property for $5.4 billion from PetroChina. The blockbuster deal was so big that it triggered concern in the corporate finance unit, Brillon recalls. What happens, she wanted to know, if the thing doesn’t go through?

“It was a tough role to be in to say, ‘We need a Plan B here just in case,’ ” she recalls. “There was a lot of positive energy around getting the deal done and wanting it to happen.”

The deal ultimately collapsed, leaving Brillon, 52, and her colleagues with the difficult job of patching up Encana’s balance sheet through 2012 amid rock-bottom natural gas prices, and stoking fresh rumors that the company was ripe for a takeover.

Change has been deliberate, if not swift. On paper, Encana has raised roughly $3.8 billion through partnerships since the PetroChina deal fell through, including $2.9 billion from Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. for a 40 per cent stake in the Cutbank Ridge property. The company raised another $1.18 billion in a deal with PetroChina subsidiary Phoenix Duvernay Gas.

Brillon has also overseen an aggressive hedging program, which has cushioned the blow from successive billion-dollar losses amid tumbling gas prices. Encana now has 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of its 2013 output – more than 40 per cent of total production – hedged at an average price of $4.39 per 1,000 cubic feet. “I’m the kind of person who likes to work through things,” she says, describing what motivates her in tough times, “and I think when you’re in a challenging environment, you’ve got to be on your game.”

Was 2012 a challenging year? “Extremely,” she says. But it does not rate as the worst she’s seen. She graduated with a BA in economics from the University of Calgary at about the same time that the infamous National Energy Program and a deep recession sideswiped Alberta, she points out. She joined PanCanadian Energy Corp. and later played a central role in the $22.5-billion merger with Alberta Energy Co. that created Encana. Seven years later, she helped cleave the company back in two. Many from the finance unit that worked on the original merger “are still with me,” she says. “I have a very loyal team.”

She betrays no regrets about sticking with one company for so long in a city known for its revolving corporate doors. “The grass isn’t greener on the other side,” she says.

Career Highlights

  • Graduated from the University of Calgary in 1981 in economics
  • Helped structure the 2002 merger that created Encana Corp.
  • Helped structure the split that created Cenovus Energy Inc. in 2009
  • A former director with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Verbatim

On being a thoughtful contrarian: It takes a lot of energy, particularly when you’re running against the current, to say the “what-ifs” and “We’ve got to get something else in place,” elevating the awareness through the organization, through the executive team and through ultimately the board as to where you sit.

On working with Encana CEO Randy Eresman: He respects the work I do. For the most part, he leaves me to manage my world and I just keep him abreast of what we’re doing and how we’re proceeding. I think over time we’ve built up a pretty strong relationship.

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