Delicate & Cognizant

Sinopec Daylight Energy’s Cameron Proctor explains the intricacies of his company’s international merger

In December 2012, Daylight Energy became Sinopec Daylight Energy Ltd. after being acquired by China-based Sinopec for more than $2.1 billion. The deal made Daylight an important piece of the world’s fifth-largest company by revenue—one that could provide Sinopec with access to a mix of crude oil, liquids-rich natural gas, and resource-play natural gas in Alberta and northeast British Columbia—and it signaled an expansion in responsibilities for Cameron Proctor, Daylight’s executive vice president and chief legal officer. Recently, he spoke to Advantage about the continuing challenges of facilitating communication between a pair of cultures separated by an ocean, fifteen time zones, and a language barrier, and he explained the ways his peers can improve the oil and gas industry.

Advantage: Your grandfather was a founding partner of Bennett Jones, and your uncle is a judge on the Queen’s Bench, so law seems to be in your blood. Was it always the profession you wanted to get into?
Cameron Proctor: It wasn’t really on my radar at a young age, even though it probably should have been. Honestly, my greatest passion is the outdoors—particularly fishing. I put myself through law school working as a fishing guide. If I hadn’t followed my granddad’s advice and become a lawyer, I’d probably still be standing in the middle of a very cold river, not making very much money. But I’d probably still be extraordinarily happy.

Being acquired by one of the world’s largest companies obviously had to be a shock to the status quo. What was the biggest change?
The change it caused the organization was massive. We now had to navigate the cultural differences between how a huge Chinese state-owned enterprise is run and how a smaller, independent North American business is run. I’m happy to say that after more than two years, we feel it’s been a very thorough and successful process.

WHY LAW?

“My granddad was influential in my decision to pursue law. We were very close. He saw qualities in me that he thought would be good in the legal profession. But he really sold me on the types of relationships you could build and the opportunities that a law degree can open up in other business avenues.”

How do you navigate those cultural differences?
Very, very carefully. Typically, our CFO and I do all of the major communications. You’re dealing with an enterprise that has operations around the world but isn’t necessarily familiar with what’s happening in North America. You have to be delicate and cognizant of everything you’re doing to avoid miscommunication because it can lead to a breakdown in trust.

What about big changes to your role?
I always headed up the legal group and was involved in business development, but through internal attrition and succession planning, I took on other roles. Now information technology and security and human resources are part of my portfolio along with government and community relations.

Sinopec has operations in Canada and the US and about 45 other projects in 27 different countries, so I get involved in all different parts of the world as part of the international legal team.

So is your team huge?
Our legal team is actually pretty lean; there are four of us. My associate general counsel and a senior legal counsel from Beijing are my two main contacts. I have about 90 direct and indirect reports altogether.

Cameron Proctor’s
Career Milestones

2003
Graduates from the University of Calgary with a law degree

2003–2010
Articles with and is subsequently hired at Blak Cassels & Graydon in Calgary

2010–2011
Becomes VP, general cousel, and corporate secretary at Daylight Energy

2011
Sinopec acquires Daylight Energy

2012
Proctor is promoted to the position of executive VP and chief legal officer for Sinopec’s Canadian operations, and he also becomes a director for Sinopec’s North American business branch

You’ve had an ever-expanding list of roles at Sinopec. Do you think the increased workload has made your job more difficult?
I have responsibility over multiple disciplines and multiple departments in this organization, and I get to draw on experiences from managing all those different groups to be informed about where our business is going and what we need to do in order to execute properly. So it’s the opposite, actually.

What sets the company apart in this industry?
We are private and wholly owned by our Beijing-based parents. Our assets in Canada are diversified in such a way where we can develop them as part of a more global strategy. That involves looking at using our resources for export opportunities.

What keeps you excited?
Oil and gas is a superdynamic environment, particularly in North America, where a lot of the conventional resources have been developed and we’ve had to fundamentally switch how business is done with things like horizontal drilling and multistage fracturing. We’re on the cusp of important advances like liquefied natural gas. People
have the impression of the oil and gas industry as being industrial, but it is very technology-driven.

On the opposite end, where can it improve?
One of my pet peeves is that the oil and gas industry has a very bad public image. It needs to make progress with how it deals with, informs, and educates the public of all the benefits it creates. CAPP [the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers] is doing a great job, but a lot more can be done.

Obviously, the sale of Daylight was a great professional accomplishment, but what do you consider your personal accomplishments?
Continuing to be family-oriented. I’m busy professionally, but I find time to get out and coach my son’s hockey team and make sure my daughter makes her swim lessons. I encourage all the people who are around me to place importance on personal things.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Elegant legal solutions are meaningless unless they achieve the business objectives of your client. You need to understand the business in order to assess what risks are worth taking and what risks need to be avoided.

What keeps you motivated?
Doing interesting things. It’s not really money and other things; it’s the new experiences created by solving interesting problems.

Editor’s Note: At the time of publication, Cameron Proctor had left Sinopec Daylight Energy’s employ.