Perhaps not surprisingly, his answer helps to explain where he is going next. In today’s market, oil is roaring while gas is an also-ran, its prices mired in a deep funk. It won’t last, Mr. George believes.
“There’s plenty of oil in the world today. I don’t think the price of crude should be at $90 [U.S.],” he says. A more reasonable price, looking just at the basics of supply and demand, might be $75 or $80. The path for Canada will be particularly tough. Alberta’s oil is inland, far from ports, dependent on pipelines that become full and costs that spiral. “We the industry are still on the high end of the production cost curve,” he says.
Gas, on the other hand? There, he is “a little more bullish.” Coal-fired power plants are switching to gas to generate electricity. Vehicles, he believes, will follow. If “you moved more and more of your truck fleet from using gasoline to some kind of a natural gas system, you’d see emissions drop, you’d see costs drop,” he says. “There’s lots of infrastructure that has to go in to make that happen.”
In that, he smells opportunity.
And at 62 years old, he still has time to leave his imprint on the oil patch outside of Suncor.
Still, Mr. George is not wedded to work. He has a house in Big Sky, Mont., and grows nearly euphoric when he talks about the quality of skiing there. When he’s in Calgary, he works out every morning. He owns a Harley, but rarely rides it. Instead, he is an active cyclist. Every year, he and his wife Julie join several other couples on cycling trips. They have been to Vietnam, India, Morocco, Croatia, France and Italy. Next year, they’re looking to Eastern Europe. He recently returned from Turkey, where he took his family – including his three kids and a grandchild – for a 20-40-60 tour: 20 years as Suncor chief, 40 years of marriage, a 60th birthday for his wife.
It’s clear that relinquishing his position atop Canada’s oil sands has not been difficult. Unlike many retiring chiefs, he did not retain a seat on the board, and he practically exhales with relief when he talks about giving up the public advocacy duties that come with being Mr. Oil Sands.
“In this next life, I’m not going to be as public about what we’re doing,” he says. “Getting out of the spotlight after 20 years is not a bad thing.”
That’s not to say he will be inactive. Novo Investments will not be a passive fund. It will, instead, take “a very active approach” in the companies it chooses. Mr. George has a lifetime of executive experience. He’s not about to let it go to waste.
For now, though, it feels good being free of Suncor, a place whose culture inevitably changed as it grew. Mr. George, in his book, describes Exxon Mobil Corp. as a company whose “employees will agree that working there can be very rewarding, but I doubt many would say it’s fun.” Suncor, especially after swallowing Petrocan, had started to become that kind of place, where procedures began to rule over personal initiative.
Mr. George declines dessert, opting instead for a cappuccino. “Surprisingly,” he says, he doesn’t miss Suncor. The afterlife isn’t such a bad place to be.
“Life’s been full, actually,” he says. “I haven’t been resting on my laurels at all. And I’m quite excited about what we’re doing next.”