Let the hazing begin: Josée Tremblay on her new role at Suncor

Let the hazing begin: Josée Tremblay on her new role at Suncor
Josée Tremblay

Low-lying cloud no match for clarity of vision from Suncor’s new Atlantic VP

AFTER THE DRY AIR OUT WEST, Josée Tremblay says one of the things she was looking forward to in her new posting was the fog. Tremblay recently moved to St. John’s from Suncor’s Calgary office to take over as the company’s vice president East Coast Canada. A sea kayaker and backcountry skier, when she was out West she loved telemarking through the “pristine nature” of “a whole wall of white snow that hasn’t been touched.” While these passions may dovetail well into the wilderness of Newfoundland, she brings something even more relevant to this coastline and its natural resources: she is an expert decision maker.

While her predecessor, Steve Hogan, had spent the majority of his career at Suncor, Tremblay only joined the company last year, bringing diverse years of industry experience with her. Tremblay remembers the words from a poster on the wall when she interviewed with Suncor, “We create energy for a better world.” That slogan resonated with her overarching reasons for working in the oil and gas business.

While acknowledging the potential of other natural resources, Tremblay is motivated by the limited nature of petroleum deposits. She believes there is a “need to have smart people really applying themselves” to develop in the most efficient and innovative ways possible these “finite resources we all own as a society.” To illustrate the point, she tells a story of a colleague who convinced their company to use a miscible flood in a particular field (i.e. the injection of gases into the reservoir) which, though it required a larger upfront investment, brought the resource recovery rate from 20 to 60-70 per cent.

In using a story about a colleague’s specific success instead of her own, she inadvertently illustrates another quality of her leadership. Tim Tomberlin (now with Murphy Oil in Houston), who worked at ConocoPhillips with Tremblay, describes her as “courageous” in how far she would go in trusting him and his work when she was his supervisor. Tomberlin emphasizes that Tremblay was “always appreciative” and “always gave credit.” He says she is “a leader who won’t talk over you. She listens to what people say.”

Tremblay was raised in Northern Quebec in the Saguenay region. She grew up close to nature, picking blueberries and wild strawberries. She was the eldest grandchild and spent a lot of time with her aunts, uncles and grandparents. Her grandmother would take her foraging, gathering medicinal ingredients in the forest. Her grandparents’ basement was “like a treasure hunt” of jars and salves. When her grandmother died, Tremblay says she “didn’t want the pearls” but instead inherited a book of medicine that, though she knows it is mostly out of date, is meaningful to her because of where it came from.

Growing up in a primarily French-speaking region, Tremblay didn’t speak English until university when she took English as a second language. She attended University of Calgary with help from a bursary from the federal government that helped pay tuition in exchange for her teaching in French immersion elementary schools for eight hours a week.

She liked physics and math, which drew her to Mechanical Engineering in university. Her first experiences in the oil and gas industry were as a summer student. One summer she worked as a plant operator in Northern Alberta. Though her mother had taught her to think through decisions early on, making lists of pros and cons, Tremblay’s true “passion” for decision analysis emerged later.

After university, Tremblay worked on a petroleum development in Central Alberta that required her to deal with lots of challenges on the reservoir side. There she used a probabilistic approach to decision analysis. After that, she worked in corporate planning in Houston with Burlington Resources and was involved in their Strategic Decision Group. It was a “whole different level of portfolio management relative to making decisions.” It was this work which spurred her to go to Stanford University as part of one of the first groups to complete a (then) new certificate program of Strategic Decision and Risk Management.

She says this passion for decision analysis was discovered through “experiential learning.” Over the last eight years, she has been trying to develop her intuition and integrate it into the decision analysis process. The book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, made an impact on her. “Intuition is not magic,” Tremblay explains. “It is really how your brain processes much faster than your conscious brain processes things and it’s your ability to tap into that.”

Tremblay believes her transition to Suncor was an easy one because, like her, the company takes a “holistic approach” to business without “becoming too myopic just looking at the data.” And moving within Suncor to this new position, she has some context already as many of the people working on the East Coast also reported to her while she was in her former position as vice president of Engineering Exploration and Production.

She also has four years of experience working offshore assets from when she was with ConocoPhillips in Jakarta, which she describes as giving her a commitment to “safety leadership” and an awareness of how these large offshore projects are influential in the “regional spectrum” when it comes to “employment” and “community involvement.” Once again, she emphasizes the framing of an asset: within a complete region; within a larger portfolio; “coherent growth” from a “regional perspective.”

Tremblay says that Suncor’s East Coast assets are a “complementary piece of [their] portfolio.” She says their decisions about these opportunities must consider both “internal but also external stakeholders.”

Suncor recently announced that they (and their partners) will be extending the life of the Terra Nova floating, production, storage and offloading vessel (FPSO) by 10 years. Prior to the announcement, while talks with their partners were still ongoing, Tremblay said they must consider not only what an extension would mean for them as an organization operating on the East Coast but also what it means for the “economic opportunity for the region.”

Suncor is currently the only company that has a stake in all producing assets in the region. This, along with their recently acquired exploration licenses, seem to signal a long view of the offshore potential here. But whatever Suncor’s decisions, on either existing assets or possible new fields, Suncor is putting those decisions into new hands. Hands that hold both technical expertise and a deeper, broader and evolving sense of how to make those choices as they reach into the wild fog of the Atlantic. |nrm

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