Rick George: On oil, leaders, religion and fish

On oil, leaders, religion and fish

“Thirty to 40 years from today, 80% of your oil is going to come from the oilsands.

We don't have to worry about a panic and running out of oil. That's not the kind of world I see. I do see a world of transitions toward better efficiency and more new technologies.

I love the outdoors so I have this routine. In the winter, I downhill ski and cross-country ski. In the summer, I move to golf. In July and August, I move to fly-fishing. And then in the fall I move to bird hunting — and back into the cycle.

Whatever you produce, you have to do it in such a way that there is less of an impact on the land, air and water. We've never been that interested in the debate about Kyoto.

In megaprojects it's difficult to make the connection between the engineering work, the materials and the people. At the peak of our Millennium project we had 6,000 construction workers on site. I'm not blaming anyone, but it's hard for the workers to connect to the job and its harder for us to marshall them. So Suncor formed its own major projects group in-house where we do a lot of stuff in much smaller groups. The peak number is 500. There is a direct line of sight between supervision and the guys doing the job. I think people are happier working in that kind of environment.

When we went public in March of 1992, our market capitalization was $1 billion, and today, if you do the math, it's just north of $17 billion. That's a track record I'm extremely proud of, and I can tell you the rise is not over yet.

Everybody has a boss. There is no escaping that. The most important are the people that report to you. The second most important are your peers. If you deliver on those, your boss will have no choice but to support you. A lot of times people tend to get that reversed.

Leaders who have done a terrific job focus on the big rocks first, delegate on the smaller issues and keep the focus on the future.

We focus on three things: increased productivity, which is very important for Canada, reduced costs and reducing our environmental footprint. Technologies that don't do all three of those are not going to work for us or most companies in the long haul.

I grew up in a very small town where my dad owned the local radio and TV shack. It was a simple world. There was a very strong Puritan work ethic, and to a certain degree I've never lost that.

Both my parents lived through the Depression. That left a real impression on me in the sense that they were always frugal and making sure you saved every nickel that came your way. I'm not saying I've duplicated that. It's just something I've never forgotten.

My wife is my best friend and best critic.

There are lots of people figuring out how to get into this oilsands business: That's one thing about success. It does breed competition.

All religions, when taught by moderates, [embrace] tolerance, whether you are a Muslim, Christian or Jewish. What I worry about are the extreme factions. I would never have guessed 30 years ago that we would get into these massive divisions of thought.

If you are only interested in tomorrow's headlines, how can you have the kind of vision to drive countries where they ought to be driven?

At times I don't have a lot of patience, and at times I'm not as articulate as I should be in terms of explaining some of my thoughts and ideas. I often think that I know this industry probably better than I do. But I've been at it a long time, 30-some years.

If I had to change one thing, I would really like to change the public's opinion of the oil industry. Lots of people like to paint the industry as this kind of bad entity out there.

Think independently. Think for yourself.”

Timeline: Richard (Rick) George
Calgary, Alta.
Born 1950 in Brush, Colo.
Engineer, lawyer, outdoorsman, father, CEO

1973: Graduates in engineering from Colorado State; works for Texaco before heading to the North Sea with Sun Company Inc.

1991: Takes helm of Suncor, a struggling oilsands player dogged by toxic fires, low morale and even lower profits.

1992: Switches Suncor from bucket-wheels mining to truck and shovel, saving $4 a barrel. Made environmental controls a priority.

1999: Announces $3.4-billion Project Millennium expansion with oil at $12 a barrel; increases production to 225,000 barrels a day.

2004: Opens Suncor's second wind farm; sues the Alberta government for $250 million over oilsand royalties.