Bill Fanning

GAME CHANGER – Bill Fanning

The OGM had the opportunity to interview Mr. Bill Fanning, President and Country Manager of Kvaerner Canada Limited.  His path to success holds much wisdom and progress. We can all learn from this guy!

THE OGM: What had you focus on the oil and gas industry as a career choice?

Bill Fanning: Timing is everything and when you add a little serendipity into the mix, interesting things happen. Hibernia was discovered in 1979, and I graduated in 1980. At the time, Mobil Oil started recruiting Newfoundlanders and shipping them off to Calgary in anticipation of them returning home to be part of the Hibernia development project. The prospect of oil riches and how it could transform our economy was all the talk back then and I recall editorials referring to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as the new “blue-eyed Sheiks”, a direct reference to Peter Foster’s best-selling book in 1979. My mother was also influential in my career choice. Through her stubbornness and tenacity; at the time Mobil Oil was recruiting in 1980, I was working on a film in and around St. John’s called, “A Whale for the Killing”, produced by Playboy Productions out of Los Angeles. Need I say more. I was 22 years old, single and caught up in the glam and glitter of Hollywood and to make matters worse, at least in my mother’s mind, they offered me the opportunity to go to LA to finish the movie and shoot another film in Shreveport, Louisiana. Not a bad gig right?

But my mother had other ideas. In the middle of the film shoot in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, mom called the set and insisted that I (who was hidden in the bow of a dory in the harbour), be brought to shore because Mobil Oil had called for an interview. Aside from being slightly embarrassed, I made the interview and eventually, to my mother’s delight, I signed on with Mobil Oil and thus began my 35+ year career in the oil and gas industry. I was told much later that I came to that interview smelling of fish! I’ve never regretted my decision even though my friends from the film industry went on to establish themselves in Hollywood with movies like ET, the Good Bye Girl and many more great films. True story!

The OGM: What advice do you have for future leaders entering the energy sector?

Bill Fanning: Hang on for the ride, embrace change, don’t stand still, learn and innovate from other industries, build strong linkages with partners and stakeholders, value your employees, set clear goals and targets, measure and improve, be strong, be human, find ways to accomplish more and spend less time at the office; celebrate eureka moments with the ones who got you there, recognize and act on square pegs in round holes quickly, follow-through, be consistent, work hard to achieve work-life balance (it does exist). Lastly, in situations of high stress that demand your full attention but are not life or death situations, always sleep on it for 24 hours before making a decision.

The OGM: What do you feel is the potential of our resources offshore and how will they be developed?

Bill Fanning: Mother Nature has blessed us with huge resource potential on a large scale. The 50-year global energy outlook for fossil fuel is very robust when you factor in population growth of 2 billion people and society in general’s push toward industrial urbanization; these two factors alone will continue to drive future fossil fuel energy demand.

As we move further offshore Newfoundland into slope and deepwater, the logistical challenges and harsh weather conditions pose a greater risk to our ability to safely and cost effectively develop our oil and gas resources. So I expect to see a higher level of collaboration and cooperation within our local industry to tackle a whole variety of issues from regulation and standards, supply chain and logistics, exploration, development, production operations, contracting and procurement. Traditionally, our industry has been very good at effecting change quickly during downturns; however, we have not been good at making those changes systemic and thus, we find ourselves in the same situation as the last downturn.

Our next stage of offshore development requires that we have a continuous and steady exploration portfolio of the province’s resource reassessment program. From a new development project perspective, the Flemish Pass will require a much more coordinated approach amongst the operators from an overall basin development perspective, which could slow down the timing for future developments so we need to focus on reducing the cycle time between seismic acquisition, drilling, and development.

And I haven’t even mentioned our vast gas resources that will be monetized into the future; LNG for example; it’s clean, it’s very portable and of course, Newfoundland sits between the Americas and European markets. We can capitalize on this, but I do worry that as a local oil and gas industry, we are not as collaborative as we should be and a further rise in oil prices may mean another lost opportunity.

The OGM: How do we overcome adversities like the price of oil?

Bill Fanning: A big part of it is having a healthy respect for the numbers because the numbers don’t lie. When oil prices drop by 70%, you have to cut costs and find ways to be more efficient; otherwise you don’t survive. However, when oil prices drop by 70% as we have seen, and if all we do as operators, government, regulators, suppliers and contractors is take care of our own business, that won’t be enough.

You will hear people talk about various industry initiatives using phrases like, “good enough,” “offshore construction industry standards,” “design one, build many.” These industry initiatives are a direct response to the current industry downturn. Our local/regional industry needs to adopt a similar mantra that continues in good times and in bad. That would be sustainable.

The OGM: What does teamwork mean to you?

Bill Fanning: Like most people who have played sports throughout their lives, I see so many parallels between team sports and teamwork. Competition, passion, frustration, winning, losing, aligning, supporting, pushing, teaching….I could go on but I guess for me teamwork is about togetherness. ”

As the great basketball coach Dean Smith of the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team said, “Basketball is a beautiful game when the five players on the court play with one heartbeat”. I like that quote; it really says it all about teamwork.

The OGM: Define Leadership and its attributes

Bill Fanning: The ability to inspire people and make the extraordinary ordinary in the face of adversity. I think leaders are confident, self- deprecating, funny, smart, and very hardworking.

The OGM: What does it take to change the landscape and future of an industry?

Bill Fanning: Today, I hear the term, “disruptive technology” being used to describe a major step change in an industry. Examples would be Henry Ford and his Model T, Bill Gates of Microsoft and the PC or a medical breakthrough like the polio vaccine. Visionaries, innovators, inventors that turn an industry’s status quo upside down with a product or process that everyone wants and/or everyone needs and consequently, the impact is usually felt well beyond a particular industry and society in general.

The OGM: What was the most exciting time in your career and why?

Bill Fanning: I feel very lucky that most of my career years have been really exciting and challenging. The Hibernia project experience and First Oil in November 1997 was incredibly rewarding and off the charts in terms of scale, but I would have to say the most exciting (and often nerve-wracking) time was when I left HMDC to join a small technical services company in late 1999 and a year later, we started another technical services company. Over a 10-year period, we built up both companies expanding our services in Atlantic Canada, out west and we also had pretty good success internationally including the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, and south-east Asia.

Initially, I found the transition from an oil company to contractor difficult. It’s a very different world even though I was still in the same industry. I had to immerse myself in every aspect of the business not to mention many sleepless nights worrying about having to meet an ever expanding payroll. But it was challenging, fun and exciting too. Project Management 101 would never endorse this but on more than one occasion, we’d win a big job and then we’d look at each other and say, how the hell are we going to execute, but we had a great team and always found a way to get it done! In 2009, one of the companies was sold and for me personally, it was bittersweet on one hand to be recognised by your industry peers but at the same time, it was tough to let go.

The OGM: Who are your mentor/s? What have you learned from them?

Bill Fanning: My father and my father-in-law who are no longer with us were so different from each other in personality and career (medicine and engineering) yet so similar in their work ethic, wisdom, and self-confidence. They each inspired me in so many different ways but more than anything else, they taught me the importance of hard work and playing fair.

I also had a great boss during the outset of the Hibernia Project who took a chance on me when others would have gone for more senior experience. At the time, he was one of very few senior Project Managers in the world with GBS experience and yet he was a very humble man. His name is Terry Lloyd. He taught me the value of teamwork, staying grounded, working hard and challenging myself to always dig a little deeper for higher quality decisions. One of my biggest regrets is that I never told him how much he influenced my career so I’m hoping he may see this article as my recognition and thanks to him. I’ve also been fortunate to have a beautiful and very smart wife of 32 years who always tells it the way it is, and that keeps me grounded.

The OGM: How is collaboration important in building an industry?

Bill Fanning: It’s hard for me to imagine industry without collaboration. There are so many moving parts: creating the right investment climate, setting the right regulatory framework, communicating the services and supplies and service level expectations, creating an atmosphere of openness and transparency so that business people can assess risks and make informed decisions, building networks and managing personal relationships.

Most of the time, collaboration is happening behind the scenes; however, when the oil price drops by 70%, I would call it a “crisis for collaboration” and it is desperately needed when normal industry churn is simply not enough to tackle and solve industry-wide problems. I worry that as a local oil and gas industry, we are not as collaborative as we should be and a further rise in oil prices may mean another lost opportunity. Let’s get it together when the going is good.

The OGM: If you had one wish for the future of the province what would it be?

Bill Fanning: I have two adult daughters both of whom were educated here and have been living away for several years now. They love Newfoundland; however, their chosen professions somewhat limit their possibilities for moving home so for me my wish is that the province is able to undergo a process of renewal that includes retaining and attracting more youth to our province and a continued focus on higher education and learning. We have the oldest population in Canada that places a considerable strain on our economy. We need to cultivate a society of young entrepreneurs and innovators to generate revenue and wealth creation.

The OGM:  Thanks Bill, you truly are a leader and a game changer. Thank you for your mentorship and guidance throughout your career. We know you have touched many people along the way and have been an exemplary contributor to this industry. Oh, and we’ll be sure to send Terry Lloyd a copy of this edition of The OGM!


Tina Olivero

Tina Olivero

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    • William (Bill) Young

      Bill as a young man was eager, optimistic and a great guy to work for during the early Hibernia Construction phase. I wholeheartedly echo Bills recollection of Terry Lloyd as a great Project Manager and a HUGE man.

      Good luck to you Bill as you go on to bigger and better things.

      Bill Young

    • John G Abbott

      Great article. I’m assuming Bill is only part-way through his successful career, and that there is more to come!. Well done, Bill.

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