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  (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

 

(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Al Monaco: Putting the pipeline business on a new track Add to ...

Al Monaco pauses, for a moment, to apologize.

“Do you mind,” he says, “if I spend a minute on this?”

He jumps out of his seat, swings open the doors on a wall-mounted whiteboard and begins to scribble.

Mr. Monaco is the new chief executive officer of Enbridge Inc. He holds the reins to a $31-billion company that runs the world’s longest crude oil system, plays a central role in keeping Canada’s energy sector alive and, as of late, occupies a spotlight in the corporate world – between spills and the threat of spills – that few companies can match.

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There is, in other words, plenty for Mr. Monaco to talk about. But first, splitting the whiteboard into two columns, he begins to sketch out how he sees the world. It’s a personal mission statement – or, if you like, a manifesto, in bullet points.

“You’ve got a few unassailable facts,” he says. Canada is highly dependent on exports. Oil makes up 15 per cent of those exports – “so that’s one fact.” But those exports are all aimed at a place that wants fewer and fewer of them. “What you’ve got is declining U.S. consumption,” he says.

These are the global market factors. Slow U.S. GDP growth. Rapid economic expansion in Asia. Fewer, more efficient cars in the U.S. More vehicles, and more oil demand, in Asia. At the same time, oil and gas are gushing from the earth in parts of the U.S. not accustomed to producing energy, further complicating the ability of Canada to sell into that market. “I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here,” Mr. Monaco says. “But I’m trying to build a story.”

That story points to who he wants to be, as the man tasked with shepherding a company that believes it can fix those market factors, in part by burying steel – to Canada’s east and west coasts, and across the U.S. – that would realign the continent’s energy compass. Enbridge’s operational practices were likened to the Keystone Kops, and Mr. Monaco must now convince Canada that his company, and his leadership, can be trusted with the delicate work of realigning that compass.

He turns to the second column, and begins to fill it with words like “consultation.” These are his keys to unlocking the first column.

“The business environment is different today,” he says. “What stakeholders want is not just the economic value of capital investment. They want you to build and develop energy on a sustainable basis.” Because, he says, “it’s not just about the money.”

At the same time, Enbridge faces unprecedented chances for profit. It’s staring at so much work it now expects to post 12-per-cent annual growth in coming years. North America, Mr. Monaco has said, is being “re-piped” as new energy corridors connect burgeoning oil and gas supplies to markets. He calls it “the renaissance,” which is “by far the biggest thing that’s happened in our business in 20, 30 years.” Add it all up, and there’s well over $100-billion in pipelines to be built in the next decade.

But if Enbridge is to dip deeply into that, it has to convince the world it can do it without fouling rivers and killing salmon and sickening neighbours. So this is the face Mr. Monaco wants to present: an Enbridge that doesn’t push its projects down the throats of angry landowners and past nervous native reserves. Ask him how he is different from his predecessor Pat Daniel. Ask him what stamp he wants to leave on this company. Ask him how he gets a project like Gateway built. He will tell you he is orchestrating change at a place that, he acknowledges, did not pay as much attention to safety or the environment in the past.

He refuses to blame the firm for this, however. After all, blaming Enbridge would in some ways be blaming himself, since he has been there since 1995. Instead, he argues, the reason the company did less before, and the reason it’s now investing in safety research and ripping up and rebuilding hundreds of kilometres of old pipe, is because it’s responding to demands from a world suddenly aghast at the thought of oil spilling. “The game has changed. And we have to elevate our game accordingly,” he says.

And so change is under way. For one, Enbridge is beginning to move oil not through pipe, but on tracks. It is seriously looking at how rail can move barrels to eastern U.S. refiners. That could mean loading tanker cars in the Chicago area: “you have to remember these refineries need cheaper crude now, not five years, 10 years from now,” Mr. Monaco says.

It is also changing internally. Roughly 40 per cent of executive bonuses are now tied to safety and environment – up from about 25 per cent before. And Mr. Monaco is himself deliberately waving a safety banner, making a zero-spill push part of his investor mantra. “Sure, we’ve taken a hit from this reputationally,” he says. “But we’re going to get that back.”

It’s tempting to draw a line between Al Monaco’s humble roots and his lunch plate, an egg and tuna salad in a plastic container sporting a green $6.49 sticker. Mr. Monaco is a first-generation Canadian, with Italian parents who left a small family farm in Rivisondoli, a ski town in the geographic heart of the country, for Canada in the 1950s. Mr. Monaco was born in Calgary, where his father moved to work track maintenance for the railroads.

But the salad seems less a product of modest beginnings than a tireless schedule. Mr. Monaco starts at 6 a.m., and is in many Saturdays. Lunch isn’t usually on the menu; he cancels a restaurant reservation in favour of dining in a small conference board next to his 30th-storey downtown Calgary office. “I normally just kind of grab a sandwich or a salad or something,” he says. As for the long hours: “One of the things you need to do as a leader is demonstrate your leadership and capability and your work ethic,” he says. He is, after all, a son of immigrants. “As far as where I get the focus, I guess I’d probably have to say my parents, because they sure worked pretty hard.”

Employees at Enbridge say that Mr. Monaco has, at least in his early days, a more down-to-earth touch – that he is more willing to leave the office and come to the field than his predecessor. At the same time, Pat Daniel was the object of much respect in the markets – Mr. Monaco is a lesser-known face, although parts of career at Enbridge saw him interacting with investors.

Mr. Monaco attended University of Calgary and became a certified management accountant. As a kid he wanted to be a fighter pilot – searching for a link between that and pipeline executive, he offers: “I’d say it’s a battle” – but the real allure lay in money. “I’ve always kind of liked the capital markets,” he says. “And particularly, investment decisions. So how companies evaluate what’s good and not good and what’s good for shareholders.”

Which leads to an obvious question: Northern Gateway, in particular, is ripe with opportunities for things to go wrong. Even if it gains regulatory approval, it’s certain to be legally challenged and then, in all likelihood, confronted by protesters chaining themselves to equipment.

“So basically, what you’re asking is – why bother with the project?” he says. “Let’s look at it this way: what if we didn’t do the project? We’d be letting down our customers. We’d be letting down the provincial governments. We’d be letting down the federal government. I think we’d actually let down all Canadians.”

And he’d give critics a strong foothold: killing Gateway could hurt pipeline operators like Enbridge for years to come.

But if a large part of the population doesn’t want Gateway, how does he reconcile a more open-eared Enbridge with those shouting that they don’t want it? Mr. Monaco says the company has listened, amending the route some 21 times. He also believes it’s beginning to win against its critics: “I do feel that the tide is turning a little bit” – a belief that must be squared with a B.C. Liberal government that is increasingly opposed to the project, and a likely NDP successor that would be pleased to kill it.

In any case, as Enbridge looks to the future, it intends to start speaking sooner with people along its routes, and Mr. Monaco talks about treating projects like “partnerships” with those whose land Enbridge has long dug up, and occasionally expropriated, to build pipelines. He wants more local workers to carry the company flag: “Our best ambassadors are our employees that live in the communities,” he says.

As for Gateway, he doesn’t have a ready answer. There may be a Supreme Court battle. There may be protesters. But he intends to press on. “Look,” he says, “if it takes longer, it takes longer.”

_________________________

CURRICULUM VITAE

Personal

Married with three sons, all in their 20s.

Hobbies

He’s in transition: “I used to take great pride in watching [my sons] swim or play hockey. But now that they’re way past that stage, I’ve actually, if you can believe this for me, taken up bike riding.” Considering it’s called the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, so that makes a bit of sense.

Background

Certified Management Accountant; Finance-focused MBA from University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business.

1981: Joined Home Oil as an analyst in the inventory group – a job that involved learning about how wells were drilled and spending time in the field. Worked his way up the ranks – through corporate finance, international operations, risk management – into the managerial ranks before being laid off when Home Oil was acquired by Anderson Exploration, which lopped off all managers.

1995: Hired by Enbridge, then called IPL Energy, into the corporate finance and risk management department. Cycled through numerous departments, including major projects, green energy, gas distribution, planning and development and financial services.

Oct. 1, 2012: Appointed CEO of Enbridge.

Philosophy on navigating a corporation: “People just need to put their hand up when there’s opportunities to learn new areas. The more areas you can learn, the more you know about the business. And I think that’s what leads to your abiltiy to move even further.”

Most eye-opening position at Enbridge: President of gas distribution. “That’s when I really realized that I enjoyed working with employees and people in the business. I think up until then I probably was known more as a hard driver.” But at gas distribution, “I got a good feel of what it’s like to run an organization that has a lot of stakeholders.”

Other roles

Director at York University Foundation and C.D. Howe Institute

Sits on University of Calgary Board of Governors Investment Committee.

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Follow on Twitter: @nvanderklippe

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