Suzanne West’s commitment to her three P’s—people, profit, and planet—is a new way of doing business that is raising both eyebrows and equity.
BY ARINA KHARLAMOVA PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHARLES HOPE/KLIXPIX
There’s no question West’s a mogul. In the past 14 years, she has bought and sold four energy companies, realizing substantial gains for her investors along the way (total profit $676 million). There’s also no question that her business style is unusual in her industry. “Sometimes the pioneer doesn’t have the best ideas, but somebody has to be brave, or, well, stupid enough to do it and inspire others to believe in them,” says West, past CEO of Blackshire Energy
and current CEO of Imaginea Energy Corporation, a more environmentally friendly energy company that is trying to unite business with sustainability, and whose name stands for “Imagine A new way of doing business.”
West’s enthusiasm when speaking about life and career can be mistaken for that of a motivational coach, but her passion for the tenets behind her new company is genuine and comes from years in the traditional Canadian oil-and-gas sector. Her unhappiness there, stemming from its “obsession with old skills, and linear and Darwinian thinking,” also ignited West’s entrepreneurial instinct. “I was an organizational rebel for a long time in small ways,” she says. Her oldschool experience and new-school thinking sets her business apart.
“I come from a lower middle-class family. I’ve never had any mentoring from entrepreneurs, but have always worked in commandand-control environments, which are all about controlling people. But I would always think, ‘Who thought of this stupid idea? This is from the dark ages.’ They would hire smart and resourceful people, but do nothing to help them reach their potential. After four or five years in leadership positions, I realized the systems were completely cracked. These companies were seeing people as costs, and not as their greatest assets. It is such a bizarre system.”
The system at Imaginea might strike traditional oil workers as bizarre. For starters, there will be no middle managers, because “instead of putting people in boxes and waiting for them to fail, or installing managers and sub-managers, or micro-managing everything, I want people to use their mojo.” That is why she has drawn up “Project Step Up,” an environmental initiative within Imaginea that will assess every decision according to the three P’s—people, profit, planet—in order to make it congruent with her philosophy of “and” (sustainability and profit and valuable experience).
“When we have greater meaning and purpose as part of a business’ goals, we access people’s potential in an extraordinary way,” West says, which is why, since recent articles have been publicizing her new company,
people have been interrupting her conversations at cafés, sending her emails, and calling her, just to be a part of the company, paid or unpaid, just to work on something they would feel good about. “This is an
idea whose time has come,” West says, referring to a sustainable energy company that does more good than harm. “I live in a soulless industry, but I burnt the rule book.”
That may partly explain why, despite her success, outsiders don’t always “get” West. “People say that I appear to always be unsatisfied with where I am. That’s a misunderstanding. I am wildly proud of what I do, of what others do, and organizations do, but I’m always curious about what more we can do. We’re trained to be satisfied with the mediocre. I’ve been pushing my boundaries and limits, and I have yet to find them,” she says.
COMPANY TIMEFRAME R.O.I. SALE PRICE
Touchstone Petroleum MAR 1999-OCT 2000 2.9 X N/A (Public)
Chariot Energy SEP 2002-APRIL 2005 4 X $188 million
Auriga Energy FEB 2006-DEC 2009 0.44 X $130 million
Black Shire Energy JAN 2010-NOV 2013 3.45 X $358 million