Thinking It Through

InterGroup Consultants’ president, John Osler, explains how his firm helps natural resource companies win more-conscientious project approvals

Every day, InterGroup Consultants Ltd.’s John Osler works on large natural resource projects, which exist at the complex intersection where government regulation, private enterprise, and diverse stakeholder groups converge. But, growing up in “friendly Manitoba,” Osler was bred with both the disarming and kindly disposition and the humble fearlessness required to consistently steer people toward common ground. From the geographical midpoint between Canada’s east and west, he spoke to Advantage about the business of helping clients navigate politically charged, multidisciplinary challenges.

Advantage: How did you become a consultant at InterGroup Consultants?
John Osler: When I completed my MBA in England in 1991, I didn’t realize how serious the global situation was, with the EU forming, the Gulf War, and a North American recession. I returned home to Winnipeg after my degree for family reasons. My dad, Cam Osler, who was one of the founding principals of InterGroup Consultants, asked if I could help him out on a client file in an entry-level position as a researcher. I agreed, and it’s now been over 20 years.

How did working alongside your dad influence the consultant that you’ve become?
One of the hallmarks of InterGroup is that we constantly strive for professionalism. We exist for our clients and try to help them through very complicated challenges. Our high-quality professional work is a direct result of watching my dad in action.

He’s left the legacy of a professional ethic to focus on quality work—with a commitment to client interests and needs. The firm formed in 1974, so we are approaching our 40th year. You don’t find this longevity very often with professional-service firms.

John Osler’s
Career Milestones

1989
Earns a BA in economics and political science from the University of Manitoba

1991
Earns an MBA in finance and marketing from the University of Sheffield

1991
Begins as a researcher at
InterGroup Consultants

1998
Becomes a managing consultant at the firm

1999
Is promoted again, this time to the position of principal

2000–2006
Conducts notable client engagements for his company and
develops key practice processes

2007
Becomes the president of
InterGroup Consultants

How would you describe what you do for a living at a cocktail party?
We help our clients secure the approvals required to move forward with natural resource projects. This could mean working for a mining or forestry company or for people with interests in these projects, like regulating bodies or First Nations groups. We help facilitate these interdisciplinary interactions and help get things done so projects can move ahead—it’s where our company name comes from.

As an external expert, we try to help clients find what they need or want, because it’s often not fully known or defined at the outset. We try to help people to pause and think through what they really want.

How do you create an environment where multiple stakeholders—with multiple layers of diversity—can work productively with each other?
As within any team environment, there has to be a clear goal in mind. There is a critical component of testing and reviewing this goal and agreeing to milestones to get there. It’s also important to reassess at each milestone whether or not it makes sense to keep moving in the direction and manner we planned.

Respecting the contributions that everyone makes to the process is also critical. I strongly believe everyone wants to contribute to the solution. The challenge as a leader is to find how to make the best use of everyone, ultimately, for the client’s success. Trust is a critical factor in our client relationships, so we also need to deliver when we say we will deliver.

How would you describe the importance and role of trust between your clients and the InterGroup team?
Trust is our competition. Our ability to develop and maintain trusting relationships with our clients can really influence what we do. Because of the nature of the work that we do, we have to have this reciprocal trust to be successful and useful to the client.

Do your engagements typically start with high or low trust? What helps to maintain trust?
New engagements generally start with a certain degree of mutual caution. Through our effort, we hope to develop [trust] over time. We talk internally about developing mutual relationships with clients—clients we’ll work through the weekend for to get them something on Monday. We’re constantly trying to develop these relationships. We like working with them. It’s respectful both ways. I know it’s not always achievable, but it’s something we strive for.