Finding What Matters

How a life-changing event forced the Mullen Group’s Joanna Scott to put things in perspective, helping her find a more meaningful work-life balance

joanna-scott-mullen-groupSome people get knocked down and never get up again. Others, however, have a resiliency we all admire—the ability to persevere and rise above whatever life throws at them.

Joanna Scott is one of those people.

After five years working as a nurse, Scott began wondering what else she could do with her degree. She googled it, and the LSAT came up. She took the test and attended law school at the University of Calgary while still working as a nurse. “I got very little sleep those three years,” she says.

Her first legal job was at Bennett Jones, where she worked on predominately medical malpractice cases. However, she wanted to expand her practice to business litigation, so she moved to Denton’s in 2008, working mostly on oil and gas cases. And then she got pregnant—three times. But shortly after her first pregnancy, her month-old son, Ty, stopped breathing. Luckily, her instincts as a former nurse kicked in, and she immediately performed CPR. She resuscitated him, and he was rushed to the nearest hospital. This wasn’t his first brush with death, however. They had both nearly died when he was born, as a result of her developing HELLP Syndrome, a dangerous condition that can have significant effects on a pregnancy. Fortunately, Ty is now a healthy, active five-year-old.

But the story doesn’t end there. During her second pregnancy, HELLP Syndrome attacked again, and sadly, Scott’s baby girl, named Cheyenne, expired during delivery. “The doctors told me not to get pregnant again, so I planned to get a tubal ligation,” she says. “When I went to see the specialist who was going to perform the procedure, I found out I was pregnant, even though we had been extremely careful.” The pregnancy was considered risky, but she and her husband, Chad, decided to see it through. Doctors told her there was a 50/50 chance that the baby might have Down Syndrome. They also suggested fetal surgery for a heart condition, if it didn’t resolve. “No matter what they said, we had faith that everything would be okay,” Scott says. “We knew we were pregnant for a reason.” At 39 weeks, she had a C-section and delivered a healthy baby boy with Down Syndrome.

Since having Caleb, Scott has become active in Ups and Downs–Calgary Down Syndrome Association and is now president of the board. The organization provides support and information to parents and encourages companies to hire people with Down Syndrome.  Scott’s next goal is to form a Down Syndrome hockey league. “Inclusiveness is key,” Scott says. Similarly, after Cheyenne’s passing, she helped start a local GriefShare group, which offers support to others who have lost loved ones.

After Caleb’s birth, Scott took a five-month maternity leave, but it wasn’t quite enough. “I was a senior associate with a really heavy workload, and my commute was one-hour-plus each way,” she says. “I loved the work, but I never saw my two boys. If I learned anything from Cheyenne’s death, it’s how important your children are.”

$400 million

Amount of private placement completed since Scott began


Companies acquired in the past year

$172 million

Value of the Mullen Group’s recent acquisition

A friend told Scott that Mullen Group Ltd., one of Canada’s largest specialized oil-field-services and transportation/logistics companies, was looking for its first in-house counsel. Better yet, the office was in Okotoks, Alberta, just 20 minutes from her home in High River. It was the perfect fit. Scott started in June 2014, serving as vice president of corporate services and corporate secretary. “There has been a huge learning curve,” she says. “Since I came on board, we’ve completed a $400 million private placement, acquired two smaller companies, did an equity investment deal, and a $172 million acquisition.”

Despite such notable achievements, Scott knows there’s always room for improvement. “I still don’t know the business as well as I would like,” she says. “I want to visit every single one of our 27 business units and understand what each one does. Knowing the business is crucial, as is developing relationships with everyone. I think that is the only way I’ll be truly effective in my role.”

Scott says that Cheyenne’s passing made her a more compassionate person, both personally and professionally. “I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore,” she says. “I realize that one of the worst things that could ever happen to me has already happened, so everything else pales in comparison. I now take the time to ask people how they’re doing, to make sure they’re getting whatever support they need, and to help them out if they’re going through a rough time.”

Acquiring this peace of mind is a long way from where Scott found herself a few years ago, and her balance of the personal and the professional is all the better for it. “Immediately following Cheyenne’s death, I never imagined I would be happy or fulfilled again,” she admits. “I didn’t know if I could practice law again. I couldn’t see beyond the next hour. I know it has been said that ‘you can’t have it all,’ but this new job, the new outlook I have, my husband, my family, and my two wonderful children make me feel like I truly do.”