Live & Learn: Clive Mather

On going back to England after leaving Shell Canada

I grew up in Stratford upon Avon, which is, of course, Shakespeare’s birthplace. I had three elder brothers and one younger sister.

If you have three elder brothers, you learn to eat fast, otherwise you don’t survive. You also learn to fight, too. I often wonder whether my competitive instincts were given to me through being the fourth boy in the family.

When I left university, I wanted to travel. That was my consuming wish, so I only applied to companies that offered that prospect. I joined Shell. For 38 years now, I have wandered the world with Shell in all parts of the business. I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, because you never could, but, on the whole, it’s been a most exhilarating and wonderful career.

I started at an oil refinery in the north of England. In those days, they put young graduates on the night shift and left them until they learned to do something useful, which was run a distillation column.

I was in Canada on a work permit. As a result of the acquisition by Royal Dutch Shell, my job disappeared, so I had to go back home. The timing is not quite as I had planned, but there’s no problem going back home. I am back a little nearer to my children. We will come back. I’m sure you’re going to see us around here from time to time.

I’m sad to leave Shell Canada. Of course, I knew I had to retire one day, and after 38 years with one firm, I can look back with pride on that time. To be honest, most of the things I’ve wanted to do, I’ve been able to achieve.

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing in life and what sort of organization you’re in — it’s people that do make the difference. Caring for people is partly about supporting them, but partly about challenging them.

It’s important to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve. I always think that anybody who’s been asked to put their trust in somebody else should have an idea of what that person is trying to do.

Life isn’t easy. Just, it isn’t. Every day is a new challenge. Leaders have got to be there for people not just when things are going well, but, more importantly, when things are not going well.

You’ve got to sustain that energy force to keep people going, because they look to you when the going is difficult. If you don’t have that inner passion burning within you, very quickly the organization will notice and it will slow down.

Canada has a big opportunity and we’ve also got some challenges. The big opportunity is clear. This country is capable of demonstrating the most modern technology in helping to manage greenhouse-gas emissions.

The challenge is we’ve got to turn the dial to action. I hope that increasingly we’re all lined up. What we need to do now is turn government initiatives into action, harnessing policy with business innovation. Words into deeds — there it is. We’ve got to do it.

We have the great advantage in Canada of having huge resources, but we certainly have higher costs associated with producing those resources. We have great infrastructure, we have great people and, generally, we have a very, very good policy environment.

There are various roles that I’m discussing, which might be of interest to me where I can perhaps help, not so much in mainstream executive work, but in policy work and trade, and environmental management and so on.

There are lots of things I want to do. I want to work more in the community. There are a few places in the world I haven’t seen that I’d like to, and I want to come back to Canada, because there are many parts I haven’t yet seen.

We live in Guildford, in Surrey, in the southeast of England. It’s quite an old town, and it has a hockey team who are the Flames. Isn’t that good? I can still support the Flames.

Clive Mather Calgary

Born Sept. 19, 1947, in Hampton Lucy, England

Retired CEO of Shell Canada

After graduating from Oxford, joins Shell International and works at an oil refinery in northern England.;

Takes over public affairs and personnel at Shell South Africa. Joins Shell U.K. in 1991 as director of personnel and HR.

Becomes international director for Royal Dutch Shell, and two years later is named CEO of Shell Services International.

Takes over Shell Canada as CEO and president. The company achieves record earnings of $2 billion a year later.

Decides to retire in June, with 38 years of service at Shell International, after Royal Dutch Shell acquires Shell Canada.