Rick George, who was the chief executive of Suncor Energy for 21 years, has died at age 67. George was an icon of the Canadian oilpatch, taking the reins at Suncor in 1991 and transforming it into a major international energy player.
In a statement, George’s family said that he died of acute myeloid leukemia.
He was an American who arrived in Calgary in 1991 to help turn around flagging Suncor, then controlled by Sun Co. of the United States.
First he took Suncor public, transforming it from a $1-billion dollar company into a Canadian powerhouse, the country’s largest energy producer, valued at $50 billion when he left the CEO’s chair in 2012.
George stayed the course over 20 years
Asim Ghosh, former CEO of Husky Energy, counted George as a friend, but said he will remember him as a great businessman.
“It’s not the good fortune of many people to build a business from nothing to something very substantial,” he said. “To stay with a difficult task, for, in his case, a couple of decades, and then see it through to the end. It’s a very, very rare occurrence, even for successful businessmen.”
“This was success of an altogether extraordinary nature. And Rick was one of those people who did it. He built a multi, multi-billion dollar company from virtually nothing, against the odds.”
Building the oilsands
Critical to that success was the development of the oilsands.
In the early 90s, oilsands operations were tiny and struggling to make money. Strip mining techniques were still in use, as the industry tried to figure out the best way to separate the bitumen from sand.
“He was the person who made a material change in how they mined in the oilsands,” said long-time oil industry executive David Yager, pointing out that under George’s leadership, Suncor shifted away from traditional strip mining equipment to using trucks and shovels to extract the oil..
“That completely eliminated mechanical downtime,” he said. “The whole secret to making the oilsands economical is running the plant 24/7-365.”
Kathy Sendall, a retired Petro-Canada executive, agreed that George was instrumental in finding ways to develop and expand production in Alberta’s oilsands.
In the early 1990s, mining oilsands deposits was still in its very early stages, she said. “Truck and shovel mining operations were just being introduced into the oilsands. ‘Insitu development’ [mining techniques that extract oil deposits from deeper beneath the surface] was really…