20 Years as the Black Widow

A farm girl at heart, Trudy Curran enjoys being active. She runs half marathons and enjoys hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Some of her fondest memories are from the holidays she has taken all over the world with her children, who are now 20 and 22.

Legal ace Trudy Curran has earned her nickname by helping major companies close major deals, including Canadian Oil Sands’ expanded ownership of the Syncrude Joint Venture

“People are still driving cars and flying to places, so until we have more renewable-energy sources, oil is the future of the global economy,” says Trudy Curran, senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at Canadian Oil Sands Limited. It’s exactly this sort of pragmatism that has guided her diverse 20-year career and allowed her to ink landmark partnerships and transactions for her employers. Here’s a look at the stats behind her work, including the huge acquisition she helmed for her company.

23 years old
Curran received a bachelor’s degree in English history and then a law degree from the University of Saskatchewan. By the time she was finished, though, at age 23, she knew from an internship that she didn’t want to go into criminal law. “I felt that the system wasn’t fair,” she says. So she moved to Calgary to do corporate commercial work with a practice now known as Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, one of Canada’s leading diversified law firms.

1988
Early in her career, Curran got the opportunity to work for Pacific Airlines, which had just acquired CP Air. Her primary responsibilities were financing, joint ventures, and securities deals. “I got to travel the globe and learned so much about the industry from a number of amazing mentors,” she says.
It was the beginning of a career path that would earn her the nickname the Black Widow. “We acquired Ward Air, Time Air, Ontario Express, Air Atlantic, and did a deal with [American Airlines], and people joked that they didn’t want to work with me because I was always buying, selling, or merging,” she says.

WHY LAW?

“I thought I might want to go into journalism, as I liked the idea of travel, but my father didn’t want his little girl travelling to war-torn countries, so he encouraged me to talk to a family friend about my second choice, which was law. When I got into law, I realized that I loved it.”

2 children
Several years into the job, Curran, who had been on the road two weeks out of every month, had two children, and she felt that all the travel just wasn’t workable anymore. So when Canadian Pacific Limited—a conglomerate comprising various transportation and energy companies—needed a securities lawyer in 1998, she jumped at the opportunity. “I got to play with so many different toys—working on deals pertaining to ships, railways, airlines, hotels—I was like a kid in a sandbox,” she says.

5 spin-offs
In 2001, Canadian Pacific Limited spun off five business units. “It was an experience unlike any I’d had before or have had since,” Curran says. “We set the businesses up as public entities and listed them on the New York and Toronto Stock Exchanges, all while September 11 was happening. We didn’t know if we’d close the deals, but our CEO said there was no other option, and we did it.”

3 months
When the spin-offs were completed, Curran was given the choice of where to work, and she chose PanCanadian Petroleum. “I started the job in October 2001, and in January 2002, the president called me into his office and said, ‘Guess what. We’re doing a deal with AGC, but don’t worry—it’s a sprint, not a marathon,’” Curran says. “I said, ‘I haven’t been training for sprints!’” The deal got done, though, in just three months.

10,000 employees
In 2002, Curran joined Canadian Oil Sands, which generates income solely from its investment in the Syncrude Joint Venture, the second-oldest oil sands operation in Alberta, in the province’s Athabasca region. None of the owners of the Syncrude Joint Venture is the project’s operator, however; instead, a separate company, Syncrude Canada Ltd.—with a total workforce of 10,000, including contractors—handles extraction and produces light crude, which each owner takes a share of.

36.74% ownership
Canadian Oil Sands owned 21 percent of the Syncrude Joint Venture in 2002, but that changed soon after Curran arrived. “People joked that I could finally relax and spend time with my kids, who were 9 and 11, but I was only at Canadian Oil Sands for two months when the company had the opportunity to buy a larger stake,” she says. Today, Canadian Oil Sands holds a 36.74 percent interest in Syncrude. It’s the largest stake of the seven joint owners, the second being that of Imperial Oil Resources, which owns 25 percent. The other partners are the Suncor Energy Ventures Partnership, the Sinopec Oil Sands Partnership, the Nexen Oil Sands Partnership, Murphy Oil Company Ltd., and Mocal Energy Limited.

1 asset
Over the course of her 20-year career, Curran has gone from an airline to a conglomerate with all kinds of operations to an oil and gas company with a single asset. “It’s a good place to be,” she says of Canadian Oil Sands, which has a staff of 32, up from five when she started. “I don’t believe in a lot of bureaucracy.”