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Jim Jarrell (Todd Korol)
Jim Jarrell (Todd Korol)

THE LADDER

Jim Jarrell: ‘It was hard to know if we were succeeding or failing early on’ Add to ...

Jim Jarrell, co-chief executive officer of Calgary-based RS Energy Group, an oil and gas research firm specializing in unconventional reserves, is a reservoir engineer and graduate of Queen’s University.

My first job was cleaning clubs and shagging golf balls at a nine-hole public golf course in Saint-Lambert, Que. My boss would come into the spotless shop and dump garbage on the floor if I didn’t look busy enough.

I was fortunate to start my career with Texaco in the Pembina oil field. My boss, Rick Collyer, was a mechanically minded engineer. I would bring a spiral notebook of questions to him each Monday.

When he got free, we’d take a half-tonne pickup and I’d watch him supervise crews that were drilling, completing and fracking wells, building production facilities and pipelines. These guys were down-hole wire-line operators, truckers and fluid haulers – hard-core. Many ran their own businesses and were never afraid to remind us dumb-ass office engineers that we didn’t know anything.

I joined an engineering consulting shop called GLJ run by a group of Texaco reservoir engineering alumni. I put in my 10,000 hours with highly challenging oil and gas reserve evaluation work on properties all over the world.

Al Ross and Mike Smith had created a breakthrough start up called Ross Smith Energy Group that sold investment research to pension funds, hedge funds and other institutional investors.

It was very disruptive. Our initial reports would give institutions a preview of the year-end reserves before energy companies would report and know in advance if a write-down or missed guidance was coming.

It was hard to know if we were succeeding or failing early on – we talked about more basic things like what to deliver to deepen client relationships. We believed that focus was consistent with building a high-retention, recurring revenue business.

There were 90-hour weeks. I made a commitment to my family to be home for dinner, then I’d work after that.

Our work environment today is collaborative, respectful, and fun, in an intense kind of way.

At the foundation of our client service are four rules: 1) Always say please and thank you; 2) Always show up on time; 3) Do what you say you were going to do; and 4) Finish what you start. These rules are just as important for working with each other as with our clients.

We hire quality individuals who are caring and pleasant to work with and can become reliable teammates. Employees commit a large part of their careers to work at RS – it is our responsibility to protect the culture and maintain a supportive, professional environment.

Because we are only dealing with public information you never have 100 per cent. It’s always 80-20. It takes some experience to know if the 20 per cent you don’t know is benign, or if it could blow up the deal.

I’m an introvert. I was joined by Manuj Nikhanj in 2002. Twenty years younger than I am, he is a force of nature. We are often asked how we work our co-CEO roles: Manuj’s foot is always on the gas and I alternate between braking and steering.

Office socializing is important. We have beers Thursday and golf on the second Friday of Stampede. I also cook 30 to 40 pounds of beef in a lobster pot and bring it to the office.

The most significant book I’ve ever read, next to the Bible, is the Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. The principle is simple – the habits you choose, good or bad, dictate your long-term outcomes according to laws of compound interest. Stubborn determination pays off.

Before our children turned 18, I wrote a letter to relatives, coaches, teachers, priests, business associates and acquaintances asking them each to write a letter explaining things they wished they’d known when they were 18, and important things they’d learned since. Everyone accepted, and told me they were flattered to be asked but very nervous – there were about 35 letters per child. I bound these letters with an intro from me in a leather volume. This has been an incredible resource for the kids – and me.

I absolutely love Mondays as there is always so much hope on a Monday.

If I was restarting my engineering career today I would become a black belt in Excel and then layer in training in coding and statistics.

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