Cen­ovus goes lo­cal with new CEO

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - DEBORAH YEDLIN Deborah Yedlin is a Calgary Her­ald colum­nist dyedlin@post­media.com

It’s of­fi­cial. Alex Pour­baix, the for­mer chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Tran­sCanada Corp., where he worked for 27 years, has failed at re­tire­ment.

Pour­baix, who left Tran­sCanada ear­lier this year, will re­place re­tir­ing Cen­ovus chief ex­ec­u­tive Brian Fer­gu­son, ef­fec­tive next Mon­day, the com­pany an­nounced.

Other names ru­moured to be in the run­ning in­cluded ARC Fi­nan­cial vice-chair­man Chris Sea­sons, the for­mer pres­i­dent of Devon Canada, and Lor­raine Mitchel­more, the for­mer coun­try chair for Shell Canada and now pres­i­dent and CEO of Field Up­grad­ing.

Pour­baix takes over a com­pany that has been un­der scru­tiny since pay­ing $17.7 bil­lion for Cono­coPhillips as­sets last March. In­vestors were un­happy with the deal, which beyond the steep price also in­cluded deep basin nat­u­ral gas as­sets, which meant Cen­ovus was no longer a pure play on the oil­sands.

Fer­gu­son took the fall for the deal, an­nounc­ing at the com­pany’s in­vestor day in June that he would re­tire at the end of Oc­to­ber. How­ever, some feel the com­pany’s board of di­rec­tors hasn’t taken its share of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the trans­ac­tion. The board, which func­tions as the fi­nal check and bal­ance, ap­proved that deal.

Pour­baix, like Fer­gu­son, is a grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Al­berta but is not an en­gi­neer. He lacks op­er­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and doesn’t come from the ex­plo­ration and pro­duc­tion side of the oil­patch.

Some say that means he can’t call “B.S.” as eas­ily since he’ll be re­ly­ing on oth­ers to do the risk as­sess­ment on the com­pany’s port­fo­lio and how best to al­lo­cate cap­i­tal. It helps, as they say, if you speak the same lingo.

But it’s not like Pour­baix doesn’t know how to lead a team, over­see com­plex projects and cre­ate value.

At Tran­sCanada, he held the po­si­tion of pres­i­dent, en­ergy & oil pipe­lines and over­saw the Key­stone XL and En­ergy East pipe­line projects. He’s there­fore been in the eye of storms that had many sim­i­lar­i­ties to what oil and gas com­pa­nies deal with, whether that’s en­vi­ron­men­tal-, stake­holder- or gov­ern­men­tre­lated is­sues.

Pour­baix was also in­te­gral to Tran­sCanada’s ac­qui­si­tion of the Columbia Pipe­line Group in 2016, not to men­tion the com­pany’s growth in the power gen­er­at­ing sec­tor.

In other words, he is very fa­mil­iar with large, com­plex and con­tro­ver­sial projects. More im­por­tant, say those who know him, is his en­ergy and abil­ity to in­spire those who work with and for him. The U of A law grad is con­sid­ered a strong leader and un­con­ven­tional thinker. He also be­longs to a unique oil­patch club that isn’t very big; Pour­baix can com­mu­ni­cate.

Whether it was deal­ing with sell-side an­a­lysts, con­fer­ences or anti-pipe­line op­po­nents, Pour­baix was mea­sured, clear and earnest in his re­sponses at Tran­sCanada.

Reached Mon­day in Lon­don, where he is cel­e­brat­ing his 25th wed­ding an­niver­sary, Pour­baix said he was ex­cited about the new po­si­tion and the po­ten­tial of­fered by Cen­ovus’s as­set base.

“More than any­thing, when I look at Cen­ovus, it’s a great Al­berta com­pany, it has great as­sets,” he said. “I’m ex­cited about the chal­lenge of mak­ing this com­pany the best it can be.

“There’s an in­cred­i­ble val­ue­cre­ation op­por­tu­nity ... an op­por­tu­nity to show that not only does it have great as­sets, it has great op­er­a­tions, great em­ploy­ees and can de­liver great re­turns to share­hold­ers.”

On that, Pour­baix was very clear that he is com­mit­ted to meet­ing with share­hold­ers to un­der­stand their views and ex­pec­ta­tions of Cen­ovus and the man­age­ment team.

Be­ing in a higher-cost basin and far from mar­kets means Pour­baix’s re­marks trans­late into one thing: com­pet­i­tive­ness and cost con­trol.

“We have to show we have to be com­pet­i­tive with all other sources of oil and gas on the planet and so a big fo­cus for Cen­ovus go­ing for­ward is cost com­pet­i­tive­ness,” he said.

The flip side is that Pour­baix in­her­its the strat­egy of the com­pany’s pre­vi­ous lead­er­ship and will be chal­lenged with mak­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of the deep basin as­sets work for Cen­ovus and its in­vestors.

As some­one who has made his ca­reer on the down­stream side of the busi­ness, Pour­baix will also bring a unique per­spec­tive to the is­sue of mar­ket ac­cess. Where he was once in the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing it to cus­tomers, he is now on the side of need­ing it.

“Mar­ket ac­cess is im­por­tant for the in­dus­try and I do think this is an area where I bring depth and ex­pe­ri­ence and cer­tainly hard­bit­ten scars ... hope­fully I can bring a help­ful per­spec­tive to that whole de­bate,” Pour­baix said Mon­day.

By choos­ing Pour­baix, the Cen­ovus board has put its con­fi­dence in some­one who is widely viewed as a smart, strong leader — an out­sider with the nec­es­sary cred­i­bil­ity who un­der­stands reg­u­la­tory com­plex­ity and stake­holder re­la­tions, can build con­sen­sus within an or­ga­ni­za­tion and is a good com­mu­ni­ca­tor.

He built a great ca­reer on the down­stream side of the oil­patch and ex­pec­ta­tions are high he’ll do the same in the up­stream.

For Pour­baix, the re­sponse to that view is sim­ple — chal­lenge ac­cepted.

FILES

Univer­sity of Al­berta law grad­u­ate Alex Pour­baix is con­sid­ered a strong leader and un­con­ven­tional thinker. He re­places re­tir­ing Cen­ovus boss Brian Fer­gu­son.

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