HR Executive of the Year: Melody Appelman

Melody Appelman
Photograph John Gaucher

When some human resources professionals talk about the “workplace of the future,” the conversation often slips into the dystopian; a workforce populated with robots rather than people. That’s not the case with Melody Appelman, vice-president of people and culture at Parkland Fuel. Appelman’s vision contradicts the naysayers who see only job prospects for overseas labor or autonomous drones. “That’s why we started my title with ‘people,’” she says. “Traditional HR has a lot of transactional functions in it, but I spend quite a lot of my time focused on the strategic initiatives around getting this growth organization ready for the future.”

Parkland Fuel isn’t a traditional energy company, either. As the country’s largest marketers and distributors of petroleum fuels, Parkland has remained solely invested in the downstream side of the energy business. As such, unlike the upstream producers and drillers that have been hit hard by the drop in oil prices, or the midstream companies mired in regulatory delays on pipelines, the Red Deer-based Parkland has thrived as North American consumers continue to buy increasing quantities of fuel.
Appelman joined Parkland in May 2015, and only after what she describes as a “nine-month dialogue” with Parkland president and CEO Bob Espey. “People were central to what he was trying to build with this organization and I was really compelled by that story and that commitment,” Appelman says.

What Espey and Appelman are building appears to be a workplace culture that encourages leadership at all levels of its corporate structure, from the professionals in Parkland’s Calgary offices to the delivery drivers in Eastern Canada and the northern U.S. One way to accommodate those leadership skills across the board, Appelman found, was to drop the old end-of-year performance metrics and focus instead on daily processes. “We found that we couldn’t continue with the old performance management cycle where you started with goals at the beginning of the year and had a performance review at the end,” Appelman says. “We needed something that was going to be much more reactive to our business and proactive at the same time—something that would drive the behaviors required to keep up with our growth trajectory.”

Parkland’s growth has been achieved recently through several acquisitions, consolidating its market share across North America. Last June, the company closed on a deal to pick up gas station operator Pioneer Energy for $378 million, and more recently it has acquired Stony Propane in Alberta, PNE in the U.S., Ultramar gas stations in Eastern Canada, and more than 80 Imperial-owned and operated retail service stations nationwide, among others. “It definitely adds a layer of complexity,” Appelman says of absorbing that many new staff into Parkland in such a short period of time. “We’ve had to formulate an integration plan and a change plan that’s going to bring the organization together in a way that we want and that aligns with our long-term goals—we’re very conscious of that. We want to keep on growing and we’re going to grow aggressively, and acquisition is one of our key vehicles for that.”

Getting Personal With Melody Appelman

VP of people and culture at Parkland Fuel

What is the most important quality that a senior executive can have?

What is the least important quality that a senior executive can have?

What is your greatest fear?
People who develop a fanatical obsession, whether it be religious, political or social.

Which living person do you admire most?
Tough to pick just one. I would say I admire the creative and understanding of systems in Bruce Mau; the vision and tenacity in Bob Espey; the musical genius of Yo Yo Ma; the ability of Soledade O’Brien to use data and narrative for persuasion

What is your greatest extravagance?
Life’s little luxuries; a nap on a wintry afternoon, cashmere and fabulous glass of red wine.

What is your greatest acheivement?
My beautiful, intelligent and willful daughter!

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