From In­dia to Al­berta via Kuwait

Tu­lika Gupta’s suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a ma­jor projects an­a­lyst at Sun­cor came as a sur­prise – she’d ex­pected to work in San Fran­cisco


TU­LIKA GUPTA NEVER SAW HER­SELF WORK­ING IN THE en­ergy sec­tor. After earn­ing a com­puter sci­ence de­gree from the Univer­sity of Toronto, the re­cent grad set her sights on some­thing a bit more glam­orous. “I thought, ‘I have an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree, I’ll go to San Fran­cisco,’” the 25-year-old ex­plains. But where Gupta ended up was, at the time, about as far from her peers in the Sil­i­con Val­ley as she could get. In­stead she boarded a plane and, fol­low­ing her dad’s ad­vice, was soon headed for Fort McMur­ray.

Born in Hy­der­abad, In­dia, Gupta fin­ished high school in Kuwait, where her fa­ther worked as a civil en­gi­neer in the oil and gas in­dus­try. While work­ing in the en­ergy business may have run in the fam­ily, to­day Gupta cred­its a life­time of travel and cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences for lead­ing her into her cur­rent role as a ma­jor projects an­a­lyst at Sun­cor. It’s a role that could take on a re­newed sig­nif­i­cance as Sun­cor em­barks on an am­bi­tious ex­pan­sion plan that in­cludes its takeover of Syn­crude part­ner Cana­dian Oil Sands.

Of course, Gupta didn’t start out quite so high up the Sun­cor lad­der. In­stead, she be­gan as a cost en­gi­neer in pro­ject con­trols. “I started at Voyageur, a huge up­grader pro­ject by Sun­cor,” Gupta says, “which was a big shock, go­ing from Toronto to Fort Mac and be­ing on site.” But when a new po­si­tion be­came avail­able at Sun­cor in 2014, work­ing with the ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent in the cor­po­rate of­fice in Cal­gary, Gupta jumped at the job and got it. “I don’t have a job de­scrip­tion,” Gupta says, not­ing that each day, while dif­fer­ent, might in­volve or­ga­niz­ing pre­sen­ta­tions to the board, an­a­lyz­ing oil sands projects and, espe­cially in this low oil price en­vi­ron­ment, search­ing for cost-sav­ing ideas.

But it’s not all business all the time for Gupta. She has been in­volved in Sun­cor’s Women’s Di­ver­sity Ini­tia­tive, a pro­ject that has been en­gag­ing, con­nect­ing and sup­port­ing women in the com­pany since 2012. In her new po­si­tion at the cor­po­rate of­fice, where she has been for just over a year, Gupta vol­un­teered to host the di­ver­sity ini­tia­tive’s an­nual event. “It was a re­ally great ex­pe­ri­ence as some­one train­ing to be a fu­ture leader,” she says. And her de­sire to make a pos­i­tive im­pact on the com­pany and the in­dus­try didn’t end with her host­ing du­ties, ei­ther.

Putting her com­puter en­gi­neer­ing skills to work, Gupta de­signed what she calls the cost-ef­fi­ciency idea drive. The on­line sys­tem al­lows em­ploy­ees to elec­tron­i­cally sub­mit ideas to the ex­ec­u­tives of Sun­cor. “We de­cide if it falls un­der our cir­cle of in­flu­ence and if it doesn’t we take it to the right peo­ple,” she says. Gupta’s pro­ject be­gan as some­thing short term, but after peo­ple be­gan to use the sys­tem, it was adopted as a per­ma­nent as­pect of the ma­jor projects department, where it still op­er­ates to­day. “It’s some­thing I’m very proud of.”

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