“This is one example of one of the hardest lessons for any manager—how to detach and trust your people. If you insist on doing everything by yourself, you will fail.”

How CNOOC’s Joe Bradford is helping lead expansion into Alberta’s oil sands

Military leadership experience, along with a nontraditional learning style, allows Joe Bradford to be a key contributor in Chinese energy giant CNOOC Limited’s entry into Canada’s oil sands. A graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and Queen’s University, Bradford served as a Canadian Army infantry officer, a legal clerk in Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal, and a private-practice attorney before entering a successful managerial career. His corporate achievements include serving as vice president with ESBI Alberta Inc. and OPTI Canada Inc. We spoke with Bradford about his work within CNOOC Canada Inc.

Advantage: What is your role at CNOOC?
Joe Bradford: As vice president of joint ventures and legal, I lead a team of marketing, engineering, production, and commercial specialists. Together, our team executes CNOOC’s strategic joint venture goals in North America.

How did you get your start with the company?
As an OPTI Canada executive, I was intimately involved in OPTI’s strategic, complex dual-track acquisition/recapitalization process in 2009. Due to the hard work of numerous executives, employees, investment bankers, and counsels, CNOOC successfully acquired OPTI in November 2011. I was honoured when CNOOC asked me to continue with the company.

What are the advantages of working for a world energy leader such as CNOOC?
Oil-sands projects are capital intensive, technically challenging, and require long-term vision. CNOOC brings significant financial and technical strength to the oil-sands sector. For example, with our partner Nexen Inc., we just approved an expansion at the Long Lake project. The influx of talent and funding, combined with CNOOC’s dedication to the joint venture, has created opportunities just not possible under OPTI.

What are some challenges between your Canadian operations and CNOOC’s mainland headquarters?
A key difference is business decision making. As a CNOOC company, we prepare reports for headquarters regarding significant capital undertakings. I quickly learned that our reports were being reviewed at multiple corporate levels, including the investment, marketing, and finance departments. This process differs significantly from more traditional, linear decision making. In contrast, CNOOC takes a broader, consensual approach toward high-level corporate decisions. We’ve adapted by allowing enough time to accommodate these review procedures. Concurrently, we answer any questions or offer assistance to help advance the process.

Budgeting is another cultural business difference. With many projects it is accepted practice that actual expenditures will vary significantly from budgets. With CNOOC, there is strong emphasis on detailed planning when preparing a budget, followed by dedicated adherence to the budget. As an infantry officer, I learned that time spent planning is rarely wasted and that maintenance of the objective is the key to success. I like CNOOC’s approach to budgeting.

What is your managerial style?
My belief that a properly empowered team will always achieve greater results than the individual is at the core of my managerial approach. The fact that I have dyslexia helped me to realize that the challenges I faced as an individual can be overcome by the team.

How so?
It has shown me that I can’t do everything. For instance, before I send out anything in print, I have an assistant who thoroughly reviews and edits my work. This is one example of one of the hardest lessons for any manager—how to detach and trust your people. If you insist on doing everything by yourself, you will fail. So, by involving staff and delegating wherever possible, the people I manage are given the opportunity to grow and develop leadership.

I am very loyal to my team, and benefit from the team’s loyalty as well. The quality and productivity of their work is consistently exceptional.

What would you still like to achieve with CNOOC?
I want to be part of CNOOC’s growth in North America. I am learning of CNOOC’s strong interest in environmental protection, health and safety, and aboriginal affairs. These issues are part of the efficient and effective development of the oil sands. CNOOC is one of the best-placed companies to ensure that our natural resources are appropriately developed.