Live & Learn: Gordon Stollery

Gordon Stollery on going public, the oil and gas biz, and Saturday nights.

Born April 30, 1947, in New Liskeard, Ont. • Hard-rock geologist, oil and gas entrepreneur

I’m a hard-rock geologist, as opposed to an oil and gas geologist, which we call a soft-rock geologist. As it turned out, I became more of a businessman than a geologist.

I spent six years in Toronto doing mining exploration all over the country, from Newfoundland to B.C. I was slowly going broke, and I said enough of that. I moved to Calgary to go into the oil and gas business.

You hear a lot of bad things about going public, but I’d been through it before. If you get overly paranoid about some of the aspects of it, it’ll scare you to death. But it’s really not that bad. It was kind of fun.

The hostile takeover of Morrison Petroleums in 1997 was very weird. You read about takeovers in the paper all the time, and you don’t think it’s that stressful, but it’s very stressful.

It was very weird to be sitting in an office with the knowledge that when this thing comes to an end, I’m out of here in three months. Gone. The question is whether I’m thrown out or I’m allowed to walk out — but I’m out.

The CEO always gets his head cut off. It’s a very weird feeling, because I put a lot of time and effort into that company. In hindsight, it was probably the right thing to happen, but it was way more emotional than I expected it to be. It hurt.

I was technically unemployed in 1999. I always had a lot of things going on. In 1998, I quietly started a little company called Highpine Oil and Gas. I owned it 100%, more or less, originally. In 1999, I hired one geologist. We started from close to zero in 2000, and, today, it looks like we’re up over 20,000 BOE a day.

When I started in the oil and gas business, I didn’t know anything. It turns out the oil and gas biz is totally different from the mining biz. You can actually get cash flow in the oil biz for small amounts of money.

Everybody’s saying there’s a terror premium in the price of oil, which I can believe. Certainly, where they are right now is fine. I’m happy with it. Oil could probably get down to $40 without affecting the business in a big way.

Gas could go down to $4 and nobody would get hurt that badly. If it goes below that, it gets harder and harder to make a profit, but you wouldn’t lose your cash flow. We’d still have a positive cash flow at $10, but we wouldn’t be able to post very good financial statements.

As time goes on, Highpine will be drilling deeper. We haven’t really explored the deeper stuff that well because it’s so expensive. There are a lot of rocks that we haven’t looked at too closely. The costs are going to be high, and the success rate is undetermined. But it’s an entrepreneurial game. I’m sure people will figure something out.

I have a family business, too. My dad started building a golf course in 1992, Angus Glen. I try to run that and Highpine at the same time. So far, so good. We had the Canadian Open there this summer for the second time.

My father was a mining engineer and a prospector. My dad was your basic fundamental entrepreneur. He actually was responsible for physically staking the old Denison uranium mine, which became a great big mine. He also initiated the development of a big potash mine in Saskatchewan.

On a Saturday night, I like to watch a DVD with my kids. I have two kids at home right now, but I actually have seven daughters. The youngest is 10 and the oldest is 36. None of them are in the oil business, but one of my daughters, Lindsay, works for Tristone Capital. She’s an oil and gas trader.

We’re blessed to live in Alberta. I don’t think there’s a better place in the world. Better climates, yes, but not better places to live when you consider the people, the opportunities and the natural beauty we’re surrounded with here.

There’s a certain level of persistence you have to put up with in business. When I started in this business, I think I drilled 17 dry wells in a row. You’ve got to keep persevering until you’ve got it figured out.

Anybody looking back has regrets. Obviously, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and a few wrong decisions along the way, but that’s part of the game. You can’t expect to be perfect. Like my father once said, “You’ve gotta play your cards like you see them, and don’t look back.”

Just because you fail, doesn’t mean you’re not going to succeed eventually. Never give up.

70 Gets engineering degree from Princeton University, and then a master’s in geology from the University of Toronto.

79 Acquires a small oil and gas firm, and combines it with a small mining company to form Morrison Petroleums Ltd.

92 Arthur Stollery, Gordon’s father, begins building Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont. Arthur dies in 1994.

95 Takes over Angus Glen Golf Club; buys Kylemore Homes a year later, and builds homes around Angus Glen.

98 Starts Highpine Oil and Gas Ltd. and takes it public in 2005. The company is now worth about $1 billion.