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CALGARY HERALD: ‘We’ve had an absolute blast at Shell Canada’

Clive Mather looks back — and at life after Shell

By SHAUN POLCZER 

Clive Mather hit Calgary like a breath of fresh air. In August 2004, the Shell Canada CEO took the helm of a struggling supermajor with nearly a century in this country and reinvigorated it with a sense of purpose and mission.

Where other CEOs bemoaned environmental restrictions and denied the science behind climate change, Mather tackled the challenge head-on, throwing down the gauntlet for industry to be accountable for its emissions even while it pursued ambitious growth plans in the oilsands.

As immediate and obvious as Mather’s success was in Calgary, it resonated even more at Royal Dutch’s headquarters in The Hague and a decision to take Shell Canada private with a $8.7-billion buyout of its minority shareholders.

Although Mather describes Shell Canada as a victim of its own success, he continues to characterize the takeover as an “overwhelming vote of confidence” in Canada and its growth prospects.

The Herald had a chance to talk with Mather about his accomplishments and plans.

Q: When’s your last day?

A: I hand over on the 7th of June, then I have a couple weeks here sorting the house out, the dogs, packing up and then I’ll be back in England.

Q: After 38 years in the oil and gas business, do you have any plans for all your new-found spare time?

A: To be honest this retirement came unexpectedly of course, because of the RDS (Royal Dutch Shell) acquisition, so I really haven’t had a lot of time to think about what I’m acually going to do post returning home.

But I love all sorts of sport, I like travel, I do a lot with our church and I’m quite looking forward to doing more in the community than I’ve been able to do here.

Although I’ve been fairly active here, of course if you’re a full-time CEO there are only so many hours in the week, so it will be quite nice to have a bit of time.

Q: How would you describe your time in Canada?

A: I had always wanted to work here. No matter how big and beautiful you think ‘Canader’ is, it’s bigger and more beautiful and we’ve had an absolute blast at Shell Canada over the past few years. Perhaps we were too successful, but there we are. What a great way to finish.

Q: What are some of the personal and professional highlights of your long career?

A: I think the most intoxicating assignment we ever had was in South Africa, which coincided with the transition from apartheid to full democracy. Shell was very active in that process and my wife and I were too. That was very remarkable because we were there at a time when history was being made.

Professionally, I look back at what was done at Shell Canada as being a highlight in so far as when I came here I think people were beginning to appreciate the sheer scale of what this country has to offer in terms of resources. That for me will always be a highlight.

Q: How do outsiders see Canada?

A: I think the Maple Leaf — the brand — around the world is very well respected. Canadians stand for integrity, concern for the environment, hard work and an ability to get on with life. Everybody knows that. I don’t know if Canadians know that, but everybody else does.

How do Canadians see themselves? I’m not so sure. Sometimes they’re laid back, but wow, if you live in a country like this why shouldn’t you be?

Q: Is Canada an energy superpower?

A: There’s no question it is, with the caveat that it’s always going to be more expensive to extract the energy here than it is in other parts of the world.

But you have three enormous advantages: the sheer scale of the resources; the juxtaposition of the world’s biggest economy next door and geopolitical security.

There aren’t revolutions in Canada. We don’t have a president who wakes up on a bad day and decides to nationalize the country.

And that basic security I think makes Canada the top investment choice for many multinationals.

Q: Even with the uncertainty over costs, environmental restrictions and royalties? Why were the heads of all those oil companies — yourself excluded — threatening to leave at the province’s royalty review panel?

A: Certainly multinationals have choices. The various projects they have around the world will be ranked in terms of economics, social acceptability, environmental challenges and you make your decision. So we have to be sure unconventional resources like the Athabasca oilsands remain competitive with other choices around the world.

But for companies like Shell Canada, our commitment is for the long term.

So we want to make sure we have a fiscal regime that is appropriate and, above all, a fiscal regime that isn’t going to change year by year by year.

These are huge projects with massive dollars and they need 20, 30, 40, 50 years to deliver the shareholder value associated with doing them. So we would like to see fiscal regimes that are stable — steady as you go.

Q: What about the environmental challenges?

A: I think the environmental challenge here is no different that it is anywhere else. We have to move to a low-carbon future, that’s self-evident, and Shell has been at the forefront.

I think the debate is less and less about climate change is and what’s causing it. That’s vital because the time has come to move beyond debate to action to significantly improve the environmental management of this resource.

The one thing I would say is that I accept 100 per cent our responsibility in business to lead that technological development because that’s what we do. It’s not just a matter of business, government has their role to provide clear and consistent policies. All of us as consumers has their part to play. So we’ve got to get that triangle right, between government, industry and individual consumption.

The challenge isn’t around availability of resources, the number one challenge is around the acceptability of those resources in terms of their environmental impact. Q: Any final thoughts? A: I would somewhat sentimentally like to thank my colleagues for making Shell Canada the great company that it is.

We are facing a period of change, no question, but this ship is in full sail and I wish everybody well.

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