“I live by the mantra ‘Say Yes’.”
This is Sue Riddell Rose’s answer to why she does so much. “I’m interested in a lot of things,” she continues. “Saying ‘yes’ really opens the doors to things you don’t imagine. When people ask you to do things it’s because they need your help. And what are we here for? We’re here to serve, so that’s how I run my life. My one little life.”
An understatement to be sure, Riddell Rose’s life appears anything but little. A leader in Alberta’s energy industry, she is many things: president and CEO of Perpetual Energy Inc. and predecessor Paramount Energy Trust since inception in 2002; president and CEO of Rubellite Energy Inc., a company spun out of Perpetual in 2021; director of both Secure Energy Services and AltaLink L.P.; Governor of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP); member of the Business Council of Alberta. And these are just on the business side.
When it comes to charitable work, Riddell Rose is equally active. She is involved with UNICEF Canada, Fulbright Canada, Canada Powered by Women and Modern Miracle Network. She is past chair of the United Way of Calgary and Area. She has served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Queen’s University, Mount Royal University and Alberta’s Promise.
It’s quite fitting then that Riddell Rose is recipient of the 2023 Calgary Influential Women in Business Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Axis Connects. Though the honour is unquestionably deserved, she never expected it.
“I was totally surprised, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar,” she recalls. “There are so many amazing deserving women, and quite honestly, I was taken aback by it.”
Not one for awards, she highlights the important work that Axis Connects does: inspiring women to dig in and stay the course in their careers. “We go through some pretty busy times in our lives, and sometimes it’s tempting to say, ‘I’ll put this on hold and come back to this later.’ But when you see other women who have dug in and come through to the other side, a lot can be accomplished by that.”
Flexibility, she believes, is key. “A challenge in every profession is when women have families and elevate to a whole new level of busy,” she says. “I call it the eye of the storm, and it lasts for about 15 years. So it’s really important to figure out a way to provide flexibility for women, yes, but for everyone, to continue to grow in their careers while managing the many things that are important in their lives.”
“At Perpetual, we call this Flex Life, where, with accountability and communication, the day to day priorities of our people can always be managed. We work around things, the same way families do,” Riddell Rose explains. “Flex Life has been foundational, and one of the secret sauces to keeping women at Perpetual through that eye of the storm, when their families are growing.”
She speaks from experience, having raised three boys with husband Mike Rose (founder, CEO and chairman of Tourmaline, Canada’s largest gas producer) while working at Perpetual and Paramount.
Also key to Perpetual’s culture is a focus on the team’s wellness. “We call it ‘WOW’ – Working on Wellness,” Riddell Rose explains. “We’re purposeful about it. It’s built into how we do things. We genuinely care about our people and our families. It has helped us build a cohesive, inclusive team that is striving to be our best.”
A native Calgarian, Riddell Rose is the daughter of Clay Riddell, a pioneer of Alberta’s energy industry whose charitable giving and civic patriotism is legendary. A geologist by trade, he founded Paramount in the 1970s.
“My mom worked outside the home my entire life,” she says. “She was a nurse at the Children’s Hospital. The fact that she got up at 6:00 a.m. every day and drove herself to work, to put in a full shift with those kids, was really inspiring. It set the tone for what we were going to do our whole lives.”
“We had a lovely family life,” she recalls of growing up with three siblings. “My mom and dad were both big parts of our lives and our kids’ lives too. They were incredible role models for us. The never missed a baseball game, or a hockey tournament, often arriving at the puck drop with Starbucks in hand, running in from another event. We have a wonderful family that I’m still very close to.”
The family had a ranch south of the city and as a child, Riddell Rose spent much time working on the land and riding horses. She eventually became a show jumper. “There’s nothing better than loving and learning to care for an animal,” she reflects. “It really shapes the way you think about all your relationships, life, hard work and working for others.”
Strengths in math and science lead her to study engineering, first at the University of Calgary and then at Queen’s, where she pursued a geological engineering degree. “I really liked geology,” she recalls. “I had worked at Paramount in the summers and my dad was a geologist. I had been around it a bit and started to realize it’s a pretty fun profession. There are elements of geology, especially in exploration, that are like being a detective. It’s a bit of an investigation, putting pieces together to build your thesis.”
During the summer of 1985 she worked as a student for Shell in Calgary, where she met Rose, who was also working at Shell. After graduating in 1986, she worked five more years at Shell before joining her father’s company in 1990.
Riddell Rose held various positions at Paramount until 2002, when she lead the spin out of Paramount Energy Trust. She has been president and CEO of the latter organization for over 20 years, leading it through several strategic structuring initiatives including the corporate conversion to Perpetual in 2010, and the formation of Rubellite in 2021.
The company weathered ebbs and flows in the business and commodity cycles, in particular the technology revolution of horizontal multi-frac drilling, which precipitated the shale gas revolution. “Paramount Energy Trust launched with conventional mature shallow gas assets as the sector emerged from the price collapse of the late nineties into a period of scarcity for natural gas,” she recounts. “Five years later, with shale gas unlocked, prices really collapsed, so we pivoted to build a much more diversified asset base, pursuing acquisitions to set a new foundation for liquids-rich natural gas resource plays in the deep basin, and exploring our legacy properties to add some heavy oil into our mix.”
“Ours isn’t really a growth story,” she continues. “We’re an entrepreneurial company of about 100 employees, including our field team. We crystallize value at different times and invest in creative ideas to unlock new opportunities. Rubellite is a good example of that.”
Rubellite is successfully developing its pure play Clearwater asset base in eastern Alberta using the emerging multi-lateral drilling technology. Riddell Rose describes Rubellite as an enterprising solution to shore up Perpetual’s balance sheet while bringing equity capital to accelerate investment in the play. “It’s invigorating to be drilling again over these last couple years,” she admits. “We started that company with 350 barrels per day of production. A year and a half later we’re almost 3,000 barrels per day of production.”
Having come through a major downturn in the industry, both Perpetual and Rubellite are more efficient than ever. “And that’s universal throughout the industry,” Riddell Rose points out of those companies that leaned up to survive. “We suffered through a downturn for close to a decade. It was tough for natural gas. And while this last surge of positive pricing has set both companies up for success, those tough times shaped how we do things now.”
A passionate advocate for her industry, Riddell Rose laments the denigration of the oil and gas industry, and federal policies aimed at curtailing it: “The targeted defamation overpowers the real story of the heavy lifting the industry has done on emissions reduction and how it’s driving clean tech solutions that make our oil and natural gas the cleanest in the world. Lack of government support confuses Canadians and makes it difficult to see the incredible positive contribution our oil and gas industry makes to Canada’s prosperity and its potential as a global emissions reduction solution for the world.”
It’s why she gives her time to organizations like Canada Powered by Women and Modern Miracle Network, whose purposes are to facilitate bold conversations that matter around energy transformation and raise up the voice of the balanced middle.
The demonization of the industry, she continues, has deterred bright minds, and particularly women in sciences, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), from entering it: “Women in STEM tend to go into the biomedical or environmental sciences sectors to align with their passions. Part of taking back our reputation is illuminating that the oil and gas industry in Canada is the number one investor in clean technology and bringing ever-cleaner energy to our world is a noble life pursuit that will make life better for people and the planet. It’s a shame because the heavy lifting of building diverse and inclusive workplaces for women to thrive is well advanced in our sector.”
Riddell Rose adds that when she was in university, the energy industry had a great reputation and attracted many talented people.
“It can be discouraging when your industry is continually disparaged, but at the same time it’s important we defend it – for our kids, for Canadians,” she continues. “Because to lose this industry, and all it has generated for Albertans and Canadians, would be really sad for future generations.”
When it comes to the provincial government, Riddell Rose is pleased. “The government we have had over the last four years has really delivered a lot for Albertans,” she says. “There’s been significantly more stability. There’s good thinking and action inspiring innovation, particularly on the environmental and the emissions reduction front: our energy industry is a global emissions reductions leader. There’s been a real focus on red tape reduction. We’ve seen a lot of good, positive progress over the last four years.”
“Nonetheless it’s a challenging time,” she cautions. “But it’s really all about conversations, meeting people where they are, and finding ways to inspire and facilitate conversations.”
Despite the headwinds, Riddell Rose sees a future of innovation, a cleaner molecule and the export of Canada’s LNG to global markets. “I don’t think the industry’s going away, but it’d be really nice if someday the headwinds shifted to tailwinds,” she muses. “And if we could get a little bit of positive endorsement for the good we are all trying to do for the world.”