Each year, the Haskayne School of Business and Calgary Chamber of Commerce recognize a community leader who’s made a difference in both the private and not-for-profit sectors.
This year’s Distinguished Business Leader Award recipient is Guy Turcotte, an important player in the evolution of Canada’s oilpatch.
Turcotte founded Chauvco, one of the first Canadian energy companies to buy into operations in Argentina, and has also been involved in the midstream world through Alliance and Fort Chicago Partners LP (which became Veresen). He was part of the team that invested in Western Oil Sands — sold to Marathon in 2007 for $6.5 billion — and is a major real estate player in Canmore.
“Guy stands out as the classic entrepreneur who employs his engineering and business skills to tackle a diverse breadth of challenges and opportunities,” said Jim Dewald, dean of the Haskayne School at the University of Calgary.
What excites Turcotte these days is his involvement in Field Upgrading, of which he is a co-founder. The company is developing a new process for oilsands upgrading.
Talk with Turcotte and it doesn’t take long to figure out he is a serial entrepreneur, possessed of a work ethic that comes from growing up on a farm outside the village of Chauvin, Alta. Despite his reserved exterior, Turcotte is easily animated when discussing his involvement in Canada’s energy sector.
He is being recognized for his business accomplishments, commitment to ethical leadership, entrepreneurial achievements and as someone who has jumped into the innovation space with both feet.
“The importance of ethical leadership in business, in today’s environment, is rising to the top with every business transaction. For the Chamber and the Haskayne School of Business to highlight ethical leaders who pay it forward … is important,” said Calgary Chamber of Commerce president Sandip Lalli.
Turcotte’s informal educational journey began on the farm, where he watched his dad manage the property while always keeping a close eye on his costs.
His post-secondary studies began at NAIT in Edmonton, and later continued at the University of Tulsa where he studied chemical engineering. Turcotte wanted to stay in Alberta, but neither the University of Alberta nor the University of Calgary would accept transfer credits from NAIT.
It was in Oklahoma where the business bug bit as Turcotte loaded up on business classes in addition to the engineering curriculum. That path led him back to the University of Alberta, where he graduated with an MBA in 1976.
But he wasn’t oilpatch bound.
Instead, Turcotte signed on as a project officer with what is now the Business Development Bank of Canadawhere he was exposed to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the prairies.
In two years there he wrote 94 loans. Among his clients was a woodworking firm that had bought machinery from Germany to work with wood veneer products.
In 1978 he was offered one-sixth of the business for $25,000. Turcotte had saved up $3,000. The remainder came as a loan from the “bank of dad.”
That experience offered lessons he has carried throughout his career; the most important being understanding what it means to risk your own capital to invest in something you believe in.
The company was sold within two years. Turcotte was able to pay his father back and ready for his next opportunity.
He took $50,0000 acquired in that deal and bought shares in Ocelot Energy. In 1981, he launched Chauvco Resources.
That, too, required some financial help from his father.
Back then, money for junior oil and gas companies was raised through what was called a blind pool. The initial goal for Chauvco’s first raise — with interest rates at 23 per cent — was to raise $4 million to $7 million.
In the end, the number was $2 million, the last $50,000 arriving late thanks to Turcotte’s father, who gathered his farming buddies on Halloween night in the local community centre and came up with the money to help close the deal.
“My dad had a lot of confidence in me,” Turcotte said.
The 1980s weren’t the best time to launch an oil company and Chauvco was challenged. The company merged with Tripet in 1987, in what Turcotte called a survival move. The deal closed on the Thursday before Black Monday — the stock market crash of October 1987.
Worried one of his major investors would walk, Turcotte called him up and received an answer that influenced how he looks at the world.
“He said ‘your assets are worth the same today (Monday) as they were on Thursday when the deal closed. We are going to go ahead,’ ” said Turcotte.
It reinforced the importance of investing for the long term.
Turcotte is frustrated by the “short-termism” prevalent in the business community.
“I don’t think quarterly. I am always looking ahead five, 10 or 15 years,” he said.
Turcotte’s entrepreneurial bug led him to other oilpatch investments — Western Oil Sands and Fort Chicago L.P., — and real estate. He is also a founder of the Creative Destruction Lab — Rockies, launched last September.
His current focus is Field Upgrading, which has developed a new process that uses sodium to remove sulphur from bitumen. The goal is to make the upgrading process cleaner and more cost effective.
The emergence of Field Upgrading — now raising funds for a demonstration plant — comes at a time when the company is poised to help maritime shippers meet new environmental regulations by 2020. The changes will require fuel used by then to have a sulphur content of 0.5 per cent, down from the current 3.5 per cent level.
“Entrepreneurs can look at the marketplace and see where the opportunities are,” said Lalli, “and Guy is one of those.”
Turcotte is also quietly supporting community organizations. The Distinguished Business Leader ceremony next Thursday — while not something he’s used to — will allow him to share with business students some of the lessons he’s learned.
The importance of understanding finance, measuring risk, staying true to your ethical grounding and of course, writing that first cheque for an investment.
And best of all — when you run your own business, it’s just fun, he says, not hard work.
Deborah Yedlin is a Calgary Herald columnist
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