A $40 billion pipeline bringing natural gas from BC to Asia is no small feat. Susannah Pierce is up to the task of making it happen.
BY Shelley White
Susannah caught the travel bug early on.
It was a passion fostered by her late father, an executive in Alberta’s oil and gas industry who frequently travelled internationally for work. As a child and teen growing up in Calgary, Pierce had the opportunity to explore the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and it opened her eyes to both the world’s grandeur and Canada’s position in it.
“T.S. Eliot has this great expression, ‘[At] the end of all our exploring, [we will] arrive where we started and know the place for the first time,’” says Pierce. “And that was exactly it for me, because each time I travelled, I had a new perspective on Canada.”
Not surprisingly, Pierce’s interest in the international has propelled her impressive career, taking her from New York City to Washington, D. C. to The Hague, Netherlands and beyond. Now, her current role is poised to help bring Canada to the world like never before. Based in Vancouver, Pierce is leading one of Canada’s most ambitious and pioneering energy programs: the LNG Canada project, a $40 billion pipeline that will export natural gas (LNG) from British Columbia to Asia.
“I feel pretty lucky to be working on something that from a patriotic point of view I can be passionate about,” says Pierce, External Affairs Director for LNG Canada, a consortium headed up by Royal Dutch Shell PLC in partnership with three other companies from Japan, China, and South Korea. “I’m working on something that is nation-building in that you’re opening up new markets for a natural resource in Canada that is fundamental to our economy.”
While she’s a mover and shaker now, Pierce says that as a child growing up in Calgary, she was “a bit of a daydreamer,” both in school and out. She dabbled in the performing arts, starring on a regional TV show at the age of 9 and winning the Miss Teen Calgary pageant at 14, but says it was around that time she realized she craved another path for her life.
“My dad, being the influence on me that he was, said, ‘Susannah, the one thing you should never do is depend on a man for your livelihood. You need to have the means to take care of yourself and to walk away,’” says Pierce. “It made me think more about the future, about getting a good education and finding out where I could take that in a professional career.”
A renewed focus on academics paid off when Pierce got a scholarship to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., then followed it up with a graduate degree in International Studies at John Hopkins University. With ambitions to be a foreign correspondent or work for the UN, Pierce interned on Capitol Hill for congresswoman Louise Slaughter and did a stint interning at NBC. She was even recruited by the CIA. (Though she was intrigued by the prospect of being an operative, says Pierce, “I didn’t want to eliminate myself from my friends and family and disappear, because I had a couple of friends who went into the agency and that’s what happened.”)
Upon graduation, Pierce jumped headfirst into the “dot-com” boom of the late 90s, working in tech sales and business analysis for hot U.S. companies like MicroStrategy Inc. in New York City. Though it wasn’t necessarily where she had pictured her career path, “Given where technology was going, I though it would be a good idea to be in that space,” she says.
Her fate would change on September 11/2001.
“That was a turning point for me. I had been working down in lower Manhattan and lost a number of friends in the towers,” says Pierce. “I was with a man that I felt unattached to, and it was a point in my life where I thought, let’s go home to Calgary, recollect where I’m at and decide where I want to go. And that’s what brought me into energy.”
Pierce found herself drawn to the same world her father had been so passionate about, working in government affairs at TransCanada Corporation and then at Shell. She quickly rose in the ranks, heading to The Hague, Netherlands as vice president of communications for Shell’s Upstream International. In 2013, she was tapped to head up the LNG project in Vancouver.
“It’s a funny full circle,” she says of her choice to pursue a career in the energy field. “I think a lot about how my dad worked on a lot of these projects, connecting countries and major infrastructure projects, and I find myself doing that as well.”
With her career full speed ahead, Pierce says her biggest challenge is balancing that part of her life with being a mom to her two children, aged 7 and 9.
“The hardest thing for me has been to find that perfect combination between your work and the rest of your life,” she says. “The challenge has been juggling the time I spend at work and the time I spend with my children.”
It’s a challenge she’s finding more manageable now that she and her family have settled in Vancouver, says Pierce. “Although you never feel that you’re giving any space in your life 110 per cent, I think as long as you are very thoughtful about what you miss and what you don’t, I think you can be quite comfortable with how you juggle it all.”
Pierce says she and her family have been busy exploring their new home city—skiing in the winter, boating in the summer—and she says you’ll often find her on the running path.
“I love to run. That’s my release, that’s almost my meditation,” she says. “That allows me to think, gets the juices flowing, gets the endorphins going and that is a very important part of my life.”
Career-wise, she’s looking forward to bringing the LNG project to fruition and seeing what opportunities might lie beyond.
“I’d love more opportunities to develop infrastructure and work with stakeholders,” says Pierce. “I want to expand and deepen my skills. I want to stretch myself more and more each time and get better at what I do, to try new things so that I can learn more about myself and what I might be able to do next.”