Resources / article / International Women’s Day – Suzanne West

International Women’s Day – Suzanne West

Every year on the 8th of March, people all over the world celebrate the progress and achievements made by women. This year, Precise Consultants interviewed 7 women from the Oil and Energy industry who are all at different points in their careers. Although it is commonly perceived as male dominated industry, many women have accomplished rewarding careers in Oil and Energy.

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Meet Suzanne West.

A pioneer who believes that she can make money from oil & energy AND save the environment. Over the last 15 years, Suzanne has built four oil and gas companies from scratch.  She sold her oil firm, Black Shire Energy, for $358 million dollars back in October 2013 and then launched Imaginea Energy to change the game.

Suzanne Portrait

Could you tell us what your role is and what the company’s main business activities are?
My title at Imaginea Energy is Chief Executive Officer and President. As much as a title like CEO is an accomplishment for a woman in the oil and gas industry, I think more about my role than I do my title. I think of myself more as a leader, an enabler, a mentor, and an engaged citizen with drive and focus. I see my employees as my peers, as people that share my commitment, my drive and my passion. I do not see them as my subordinates. Having said that, I do need to shoulder the responsibilities that come with being CEO, such as making important business decisions, building the team, and keeping the company on course toward its vision. I take on risk too. I am aware that many are counting on this venture being successful, including mother earth. I am accountable for our success, or our failure. But I don’t think too much about the latter… because failure is not an option for me. 
I am an optimist, a dreamer and a big picture thinker. I am also a realist and an opportunist. I am certain that Imaginea Energy will be a success!

Imaginea Energy Corp. is an oil and gas company, not unlike other oil and gas companies in that we have wells, and processing facilities and pipelines. We extract oil and gas from the ground and sell it to market, with current production around 6000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. Where we stand apart, and where my leadership has the most impact, is that we are trying to disrupt our industry. I/We believe that our industry can do better. Energy can be produced more efficiently, and with less harm to the planet. We see a future where hydrocarbons are produced without emissions, without pollution, and without the use of fresh water. And the hydrocarbons we produce will be used for clean energy and for manufacturing recyclable products. We see our industry evolving to sustainably contribute in harmony with renewable energy sources. We have a lot of work to get there, but we are working hard at it every day, and making progress.

How did you end up working in this industry?

I started in the oil and gas industry as a reservoir engineer.  I knew it was an industry primarily occupied by men, and that the energy establishment as a whole was very male-centric. But I didn’t realize how much I would struggle with how the system worked, and how the business model that was accepted as the best way to do things, did such a poor job at fostering creativity, innovation and collaboration. I worked as an employee with some of the biggest companies in the country, and I learned a lot. I did my best to be smart, to be efficient and to challenge the traditional organizational model. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t fit in to the culture of big oil and gas companies. I didn’t understand why there was competition inside of organizations. Why innovative ideas were not shared, and why everything revolved around titles, and hierarchy. To me it didn’t make sense to run a business this way. So I remortgaged my house and started my own oil and gas company. Fast forward eighteen years, and five companies later, and you could say I have continuously refined my different organizational model to get to Imaginea Energy today.


Imaginea is often called the O&G Company with a conscience. Can you give us some more information about the background story of the company?
Being referred to as a company with a conscience is nice to hear, but rather distressing to think that it stands out as an anomaly. Shouldn’t all companies have a conscience? Corporations are entities that have impacts, both positive and negative. They interact with people, with our planet and with economic systems. When we do it with a conscious – with awareness, consideration and understanding, we are making a more impactful positive difference. Even from a purely economic perspective, being better environmental stewards is going to be a benefit to our bottom line. That’s not just a happy dream, it is real, and we are intent on proving that. We are making it happen. Imaginea has adopted a 3P mind-set in every decision and every action we take. Our vision statement says: We want the same thing you want – an energy industry that’s better for the planet, and for people, and for profit. The over use of the word “AND“ is no accident, because the word AND has tremendous meaning to us. We embrace AND thinking, in pursuit of AND solutions. That means that whatever it is that we are doing, we are looking for more than one outcome. We are aware of our impact on the planet, and on people, and on profit at all times. We can make money AND be good for the planet. We can deploy new technologies that reduce operating costs AND they are safer for our employees. We can power our facilities with solar energy AND extend the life of our reserves. The list goes on.


How will an energy company make money and save the environment? 
We will do it with the understanding that everything we are currently doing can be done better. People are smart, and the oil and gas industry has some very smart people that could be working on solving problems.  When we put our minds to making money AND being stewards of the environment, AND treating people and communities with courtesy and respect, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. At Imaginea, we are barely scratching the surface today. The list of what we want to do is longer than the list of what we have done. But we are making progress.

Some examples of our initiatives include: 
Solar Panels: We have installed solar panels on two of our well sites. This solar energy replaces coal-fired electricity that is one of our Province’s worst for greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. The solar panels have upfront costs, but once paid for, we will enjoy free energy on those sites, with zero emissions. Over the life of our wells, we will be reducing our operating costs by approximately 10%, and the wells can produce for longer into the life of the reservoir when the cost of lifting is removed.

Gas Injection: We are injecting our solution gas that would typically be flared, back into the reservoir. This is a big win for both the Planet and Profits. The injected gas would have been flared in the past, which is not only a waste of energy, but it is a source of CO2 and Pollution to the atmosphere. By injecting the gas back into the reservoir, we are pressurizing the zone to aid in future extraction, and we are no longer flaring. At some point in the future, perhaps we will use it to power fuel cells for clean electricity generation without pollution.


Can you explain why you believe this industry needs change? 
There is much that is wrong with the oil and gas industry that I can talk about, though in fairness there are some companies doing some good sustainable work, and there have been some innovations over the years that have been positive. But overall, the biggest thing that I see wrong with the industry is that it is resistant to change and locked into short-term thinking. It lacks courage and foresight. Add to it that it appears to have blinders on, and lacks in accountability for the damage it is doing to the environment. Especially when there are known ways to drastically reduce or eliminate environmental impacts. Our oil and gas industry likes to see the current slump in pricing as just another dip in the cycle, like many times before. And they are slow to acknowledge that the rest of the world is in transition to cleaner energy sources.  Not only is our environment vulnerable, but the entire industry is vulnerable right now, and I don’t see enough of that being addressed with regard to change. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be an issue of whether the industry changes or not, it should be an issue of when. Because change is coming whether we like it or not. I choose to be proactive and design my transition to the future.


Can you tell us about the company culture? 
We have a unique culture at Imaginea. Our organizational model is called the Elemental Org, which is based on the four basic elements of Mother Nature. And just like Mother Nature, our model is responsive and adaptive. We appreciate that we are in a constant state of evolution, and we must embrace change on a daily basis. Everybody in the company is committed to our vision, and our organizational model provides the framework and structure for them to act collaboratively, efficiently and with purpose. We have no bosses or managers at Imaginea. Everybody is accountable to each other, and to our vision. This model demands a high level of commitment from staff, and very high expectations from everybody on the team. It is no walk in the park to work at Imaginea. It is life changing in many ways. But if you ask our people what they would say about it, they’ll tell you that it’s worth it. We are trying to make the world a better place. Who doesn’t want to give 110% to that!


How do you define success?
From what has been said above, I could say that we will be successful when the planet has come back into balance with humans living on it, people and communities everywhere are healthy and vibrant, and we are all profitable.  We need people to acknowledge that things need to be done differently, and everybody, every corporation and every government is on board to making it a reality.  I am optimistic that our future can be better than people think – if we design it in the way that is beneficial for all stakeholders.  If Imaginea can play a part in that, as inspiration, as an example of doing things better, and leading the charge, then that will be success for me.


If there’s one thing you could say to people working in this industry what would it be?
Broaden your horizons. Be a part of the change that is happening. Be a change agent and focus more on where we are going than where we have been. Keep your eyes open to possibility. Stay curious. If you are considering a career in the oil and gas industry, stay diversified. Make sure that your education can ride the transition from fossil fuels to hydrocarbons and renewables. Otherwise you might find yourself left behind!


Happy International Women’s Day!!