“If you think about the 20 years that I was involved as the head of Suncor, the oil sands was not a favoured industry.” – Rick George

It began with an AAA credit rating, it ended with a disastrous economic downturn felt the world over. The year was 2001: King Ralph welcomed his third mandate as premier, Canadian Pacific parted five different ways and Suncor CEO Rick George was Alberta Venture’s Business Person of the Year. Not all was well that year though. On September 11, the world saw the most devastating terrorist attack in U.S. history, launching a global War on Terror. The reverb was marked. Oil prices dropped, stocks sank and the Canadian dollar floundered, triggering a climate of uncertainty for Alberta’s economy. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Alberta, and for Suncor especially. George had successfully taken Suncor from a small, struggling oil company to one of the largest oil and gas corporations in Canada. “If you think about the 20 years that I was involved as the head of Suncor, the oil sands was not a favoured industry,” George says. “It was really not profitable back in 1990-91.” That sentiment quickly changed when George took the reins, kept a watchful eye over production costs and eventually took the company public, which saw a 1,000 per cent stock price increase from $4.75 to $47 in ten years. “When I came into Suncor, we – and I do mean we – a whole group of people changed the industry forever and made oil sands viable for the long haul.” But the ever-humble George admits the industry is a rollercoaster ride. “If you can get your cycles right and really invest where other people are investing and keep your balance sheet in good shape, then generally you can weather through the cycles really well.” The year 2001 must have been the part of the rollercoaster right before the big loop, because despite a downward economy, Suncor continued to barrel full steam ahead with a $3.25-billion Millennium Project, doubling the size of the company’s oil sands base operation. Now, George has slowed, but definitely not stopped. He is still involved in the oil industry and now works with private companies headed by “younger guys who want to get stuff done.” Despite the recent dip in oil prices, he insists it is still a great industry, so long as Alberta works on its public image and moves our resources to markets. “We need to get over these political hurdles and make sure we can get our product to the marketplace,” George says. “We need a consensus in this country to move forward to do what is in the best interest of this country, not just individual groups. It is still a great industry that is going to be very important to Canada.”