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In a conversation with PwC Partner Ray Crossley, Suncor Vice-President and Controller Jolienne Guillemaud talks about the personal and professional impact of her experiences with massive mergers.
Jolienne Guillemaud joined PanCanadian Energy Corporation in 2001, just in time for the merger with Alberta Energy Company that formed Encana. Then, a few years later, Jolienne found herself in yet another front-row seat to a merger. This time it was one of the largest in Canadian history: the partnering of oil giants Petro-Canada and Suncor Energy.
“Mergers just seem to follow me around,” Jolienne quips.
Ray Crossley: You were the external management reporter with Petro-Canada when it merged with Suncor. What was it like to oversee such a major transaction
Jolienne Guillemaud: It was as challenging as it was rewarding. There are all sorts of emotions… a lot of personal sacrifice. There’s mourning, too. Even though it’s exciting – you’ve created this massive company – you’re also giving up a lot. You see people walking out the door who are very good people. Essentially, you mourn for a company. I loved that company. I was content to work there for the rest of my life.
Ray: How about professionally? What’s a merger of that magnitude like from your viewpoint at the financial epicentre?
Jolienne: From a professional perspective, it’s probably one of the most challenging events you will ever go through. I don’t think people realize how hard finance is when you have these huge mergers. You try and put these two large companies together and meet all the regulatory requirements, all the reporting and then pass something to senior management that they can understand quickly.
Ray: Coming from the Petro-Canada side, once the merger maelstrom was over, where did you find yourself?
Jolienne: For me, it was all new management. It felt like taking a step back in terms of proving myself again but I stuck with it and got this opportunity. It was tough and rewarding. We have a powerful, knowledgeable team. We’re more aligned now than ever. My experience was that with a merger, you have new board members from either side and it’s tough to understand all the assets we have, as well as the strategy. I think the strategy is becoming clear to everyone within the organization. I see it strengthen every year as we learn to be one large organization.
Ray: Large indeed: As a company of 13,000 employees, with a major investment and resource base, what do you say to the perception the oil sands are more an Alberta asset than a Canadian one?
Jolienne: There is a perception the oil sands are an Alberta benefit. But the reality is they benefit the whole country – whether in income taxes federally or engaging the manufacturing outfits outside of Alberta; same with servicing and employing.
Ray: For better or worse, the oil sands continue to be in the media spotlight and the Keystone XL pipeline was a lightning rod for national and international debate. What can industry take away from this? Should it do more to influence public opinion?
Jolienne: That is a real tricky one. The politicians made the pipeline more political than it ever should have been. Industry itself will have a backup plan. We hope eventually we can get the Keystone going in the direction we want it, but there are alternatives for us.
Ray: You’re the most senior accountant at Suncor and you’ve been at the middle of huge mergers. These are clearly difficult and rewarding times for you in the oil and gas game. Is it an unfair question to ask what advice you have for the up-and-coming females in the natural resources sector?
Jolienne: I think it’s a fair question. There’s a perception this is a male-dominated industry and the reality is: it is! That’s because of the number of engineers in the organization; there aren’t a lot of woman who go into engineering. Having said that, I don’t feel working in this industry has held me back. I’ve had the same opportunity as my male peers. The biggest challenge for a female is to continue to climb the corporate ladder when you’re having children. It always seems to be the females: how do they juggle having children and a career? Not to sound too stereotypical, but that is the case.
Ray: You yourself have two daughters (25 and 16), and took business courses while pregnant 17 years ago. Tell us about that.
Jolienne: I started with a very different background. I had my kids young and I thought about being a psychologist, but that probably would have killed me. Something drew me to finance and, on the leadership side, [my background] helped me better understand people.
Ray: What other advice do you give your daughters, or if you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be – what do you know now you didn’t know then?
Jolienne: Everything! I don’t even know where to go with that. You make mistakes along the way and it’s important to just keep driving forward. That’s one. Two is: if there’s a merger coming, run!