Glen Schmidt, the CEO of Laricina Energy, didn’t seem destined for the corner office. Growing up in Calgary’s Forest Lawn community in the 1970s, he discovered a passion for chemistry – something quite different from what his father, a carpenter, did for a living. “I had more interest in school than working with my hands,” he says. And so, when he graduated from high school, Schmidt enrolled in the chemistry program at the University of Calgary, and headed off for a life in the lab.
“I came to the conclusion that I would enjoy doing more things myself, instead of reporting as part of a large company. It’s more creative.”
At least, that’s what he thought. But when he got there, he felt what he calls “a practical itch.” After talking with a friend who was studying engineering, he switched career paths, transferred departments and eventually earned a degree in chemical engineering. “Rather than talking about things, it was doing,” he says. He’s done a lot since, and his ability to combine his lab-honed precision with some in-the-field creativity has earned him the 2014 Haskayne Management Alumni Excellence (MAX) award. Dave Maffitt saw the potential in Schmidt from an early age. It was 1979, and they were both studying chemical engineering. In the winter, Schmidt would often see his classmate waiting for the bus to school and stop to give him a ride. “Our class was pretty small,” says Maffitt. “It didn’t take me long to see how sharp Glen is.” After graduating with his engineering degree in 1981, Schmidt spent a summer working in the field with Getty Oil. Faced with a decision between taking a research grant and heading back to academia or taking a full-time job in the industry, he chose the job. Being out in the field was fun. Schmidt, who used to play rugby, says the sport and his work are similar. “You get to be a kid again. Engineering is like that. You’re dependent on other people and it’s a huge amount of fun to do it together.” But he wasn’t away from school for long. In 1989, he enrolled in the Haskayne School of Business’s part-time MBA program. Juggling full-time work with his studies and a growing family was a challenge Schmidt says he was up to. “The university was our community,” he says, noting that two of his four children have since gone on to get degrees from Haskayne. During his studies, he also reconnected with Maffitt, who’s now the president of Phoenix Energy Marketing Consultants. Together, Maffitt remembers, the pair worked to overhaul a bakery’s marketing plan and business model. “It was great for a couple of oil and gas guys,” he says. Maffitt says the two started a years-long conversation about the pros and cons of creating a business from scratch as opposed to joining an established team. “Glen was intrigued about the process of building a startup,” Maffitt says. “And based on what he has accomplished since then, the entrepreneurial side obviously won the debate.” For 12 years, Schmidt worked his way up the ranks at Precambrian Shield Resources, where he started as an engineer and ended up as vice-president. “I got to learn all aspects of the business, but the MBA helped me integrate them,” he says. Among other things, Schmidt walked away from the MBA program with an understanding of how to talk to people. “It really helps you figure out the best way to work with others,” he says. This skill would prove handy. In the years after graduating in 1994, Schmidt did everything from heading up Pioneer Natural Resources’ Canadian operations to a short stint in the capital markets. “I came to the conclusion that I would enjoy doing more things myself, instead of reporting as part of a large company,” he says. “It’s more creative.” Since graduating from Haskayne, Maffitt and Schmidt have had the opportunity to work together many times. “He understands the link between marketing and strategy in oil and gas,” Maffitt says. “I have always been impressed with his ability to shift between the technical aspects of researching and testing innovative ways to recover unconventional oil, and the business side of running a successful company.” Through his experience in capital markets, Schmidt was introduced to investors and eventually the director of an oil sands company named Deer Creek Energy. He began investing in small oil and gas companies, a side of the industry he loved. “It was so satisfying to marry ideas and capital,” he says. “It’s similar to tech centres like San Francisco, to have our own incubation process in Calgary. This was the foundation of the creation of Laricina.” Laricina Energy, the company he helped found in 2005, is the culmination of his years of education and experience. In 2013, Laricina received approval for the first commercial project to tap the Grosmont carbonate formation in northeastern Alberta. While Laricina remains a private company, its projected targets would put its operations on the scale of big companies like Suncor. While building phase one of the $520 million Saleski project, in which Laricina holds a 60-per-cent working interest, the company has become recognized as a technological leader in the largely untapped carbonate formation. That’s a credit, Schmidt says, to the university where he studied, and the fact that it’s become more than a place of study. It’s also a valuable partner. “We’ve done research with the university on the engineering side and have worked with students and the public policy group,” he says. Laricina’s employee lunch room is lined with framed published papers from its engineers. Derek Keller, vice-president of production at Laricina, says Schmidt’s quiet but demanding personality has led the company to success. Schmidt, who recently competed in the GranFondo Banff, a 150-kilometre bike race, says he runs and bikes because exercise is “a way to think. I don’t play golf.” Schmidt, Keller says, is also something of an introvert, focused more on improvement than on outward achievement. “He celebrates every success for about eight seconds.” This spring the company received the APEGA Summit Project Achievement Award for its advancements in the Grosmont and the Saleski pilot. “It’s a big honour for a company to get that award and recognition, but when we gathered, Glen gave a 30-second speech and then we spent the rest of the night talking about how to improve and make phase one better,” Keller says. That’s a trait that can be something of a mixed blessing for the people that work for him, and Keller readily admits that his time at Laricina has been some of the most challenging work in his career. “If I said it was easy to come into work every day and work with Glen Schmidt, I’d be lying,” he says. “But it’s extremely rewarding.”