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From Scientist to Passionate Advocate for Women

Calgary Influential Women in Business Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Lorraine Mitchelmore on her Career Journey

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Lorraine Mitchelmore | Photo by Phil Crozier

Lorraine Mitchelmore’s career has been a journey of transformation. From humble roots in the coastal communities of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mitchelmore’s enthusiasm for adventure and growth has propelled her on a path of strong leadership, seen in her roles both with Shell and multiple boards across some of Canada’s largest companies.  

 

As this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner of the Calgary Influential Women in Business (CIWB) Awards, presented by Axis Connects, Mitchelmore has done it all. Her diverse roles span scientist, businesswoman, leader, public policy proponent and women’s advocate, to name a few. Over the course of her career, Mitchelmore embraced each successive position with passion and an unwavering commitment to excellence. 

 

Reflecting from her office in Calgary, Mitchelmore describes her 39year journey which has brought her to today – she serves on the boards of Bank of Montreal, Suncor Energy, Cheniere Energy and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, and on the advisory council for Advancing Women Executives.  

 

Nonetheless, Mitchelmore never expected a Lifetime Achievement Award. “I was surprised and humbled when I found out,” she admits. “Especially with all the incredible talent in Calgary.”  

 

Hailing from Green Island Cove in Newfoundland, the young Mitchelmore had very little exposure to business. “Our community had a population of about 200 people, and very few pursued careers,” she reminisces. “Most people were in fishing, construction and trades. We had very little exposure to the broader world.” 

 

At 16, she left home to attend university, first in Corner Brook and then at Memorial University in St. John’s. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, except I knew I liked problemsolving and math,” she recalls. “I tried physics when I went to university and found I loved it. So I combined physics with geology due to my love of the outdoors, and pursued a geophysics degree.”  

 

It was the mid-1980s when Mitchelmore secured a job with Petro Canada as a summer student and then again as a graduate in Calgary. This marked her initial foray into the oil and gas industry, and she was instantly hooked. 

 

“However, that was in 1985, and a few months later the oil price crash came,” she recalls. “I got laid off my first year, which was quite an experience. But I knew I wanted to work in energy and within weeks I was at Chevron. I was very lucky. And that’s where my career really started.”  

 

An incredible training ground, Mitchelmore reflects on her time at Chevron where she was exposed to everything – including the world. “It was an international company where we would train in Houston facilitating all these different connections around the world,” she explains. “I became addicted to the international scene. It wasn’t very long before I wanted to go international.” 

 

It was then, in 1990, that BHP came recruiting in Calgary, and offered Mitchelmore a job in Australia. She happily accepted and moved to Melbourne where she was exposed even further to the global scene. “I worked all over the world from Australia, they gave me incredible opportunities,” she says.  

 

While in Australia, Mitchelmore also completed a masters degree in geophysics: “I thought I’d be a geophysicist forever,” she chuckles.  

 

After six years down under, Mitchelmore was promoted to a business leadership role based in London. “That was my first real leadership role,” she reminisces. “Having gained experience in technical, business and strategy by then, it was a natural step.” 

 

From London, she worked in Angola and the Middle East. “While in London, I decided I actually really loved business, so I did a parttime MBA while I was there.” 

 

After five years in London, Mitchelmore returned to Calgary in 2002. “I hadn’t planned on being overseas for 11 years, but once I had my daughter in London, I decided it was time to return to Calgary and reestablish family connections,” she says. “Then Shell offered me a job in Calgary.”  

 

Mitchelmore would go on to spend 14 years at Shell, moving up the ranks to successive senior leadership roles. “I was fortunate to have great leadership roles, including starting the shale gas business for Shell Canada and then later after Royal Dutch took over Shell Canada in 2009, that role expanded to all of the Americas unconventionals. A short time later, I took on the additional role of Canada country chair, and then they asked me to lead the oilsands. By the end of 2015, I decided to retire because I felt I had achieved my career goals and I really wanted to take the time with my teenage kids while they still had time for us!”  

 

During her time at Shell Canada, Mitchelmore says she developed an interest in the energy transition, innovation, public policy and Canada’s role in the low carbon economy.  

 

Indeed, over the last eight years Mitchelmore poured her time and energy into shaping Canada’s energy future. 

 

She joined the boards of several companies, while also chairing Resources of the Future Economic Strategy Table for the federal government. “From that work, it was clear that Canada excels at innovating, but is very poor at commercializing innovation. I knew we needed to create more scale up capital in Canada if we were going to succeed in the energy transition,” Mitchelmore notes. “I worked with the federal government and other great Canadian leaders to create a scaleup fund. It did not work out quite the way we envisioned, but the federal government did create the $15 billion Canada Growth Fund and a portion of that fund is allocated to scale up capital. This is very exciting, but there is so much more to do.”  

 

“We need to build on our existing energy industrial base, decarbonize that, and from it, create technology companies that can be exported globally,” she continues. “We don’t have many global energy companies headquartered in Canada. So, I hope the next phase of energy will be more global for Canada than it has been in the past. Canada has so many opportunities.”  

 

In addition to her work on decarbonization, Mitchelmore’s other recent passion is on diversity and women leadership. She is involved with an organization called Advancing Women Executives, put on by McKenzies.  

 

“I’ve been passionate about women executives for a long time, but this has now become purposeful for me,” she says. “A group of former women executives started the program in Houston and then expanded to Western Canada. I joined this group as an advisor just over two years ago. We work with a group of about 25 women in Calgary and take them through a two-year program. It is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. You see these women at the beginning of the program, and they are so accomplished, yet so full of doubt. After learning together for two years, you just observe the growth in confidence at the end of the journey and that is just so rewarding.”  

 

Mitchelmore also highlights Axis Connects, a non-profit based in Calgary, who provides invaluable support to women in business: “It’s putting the spotlight on accomplished women making them visible role models for others. I love the quote: “If you can see it, you can be it”.  

 

“The world has become so complex, and we need great talent to be successful,” she argues. “I firmly believe that the outcome of picking the best talent is a diverse talent.”  

 

Her advice to younger people with aspirations for a successful career like hers? “The most important thing is a love of learning,” she advises. “Don’t hesitate to ask questions. You’ve got to be curious and focus on working on what really matters. Competency is number one.”  

 

Secondly, she says, believe in yourself: “And that’s very difficult, especially for woman. It’s a mindset to say you are just as good as someone else and sometimes better. Be courageous. It brings confidence and that is a critical element to success.”  

 

Mitchelmore also recommends a wide network. “It’s not just about doing your job well, it’s about working and collaborating with other people, being good to get along with,” she says. “Relationships are critical. It truly takes a village to be successful.”  

 

With two daughters now in university, Mitchelmore spends what free time she can with them in Vancouver. She also likes to travel with her husband and stay active.  

 

“I hope my two daughters and the other women I work with actually realize their full potential,” she reflects. “Women know it, they know it inside themselves. If I can have any impact or influence on them, I hope it’s that they are courageous, competent, confident people. That would be just a joy to look back on.”  

 

The 5th annual CIWB Awards gala will take place on April 12 at the TELUS Convention Centre. For more information go to https://www.axisconnects.com/event/ciwb-awards. 

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