Rich Kruger is Chairman, President and CEO of Imperial Oil Limited, a role he assumed on March 1, 2013. Rich started his career with Exxon in Houston, Texas, in 1981. He has held key leadership roles throughout ExxonMobil, including Vice President Africa Deepwater, ExxonMobil Development Company, Vice President Asia Pacific/Middle East, ExxonMobil Production Company, and President ExxonMobil Production Company. He was elected Vice President of Exxon Mobil Corporation in 2008.
A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kruger holds a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Houston. Kruger is the proud father of three sons he hopes will join him working in the oil and gas industry.
LEADERSHIP AND INDUSTRY ISSUES
CM: What attracted you to the oil and gas industry?
RK: I grew up in the Midwest U.S., about as far from the oil and gas industry as you could be. Later, I studied to be a mechanical engineer, and I thought I was going to build farm tractors—you see, I come from a long line of farmers. But when I first was exposed to the oil and gas industry and saw its global scale, its obvious relevance and importance in providing energy to the world, as well as the magnitude of cost, investments and technologies—well, as a mechanical engineer, I found it fascinating.
CM: What do you think is the biggest challenge that faces your organization?
RK: Right now, we’re going through a unique period where we’re on a very, very rapid growth profile. Dependent on how you want to look at it, we’re nearly doubling the size of the company in about a ten-year period. The vast majority of that is upstream investment. So being a part of the company during this period, and fulfilling my role to ensure that we do all this well, well I think that is the exciting and challenging part of it.
CM: How are you addressing market access challenges within your growth plans?
RK: Clearly, the market access issue is one that affects us in many ways. Our strategy is to participate in the new pipeline offerings that are being proposed. We think Keystone XL is as important today as the day it was first announced. We’re also looking at the other offerings, whether they be Energy East or Trans Mountain. We’ll look to take a position in multiple new pipelines, recognizing that we don’t know the timing of when they will be in service. And then, from an insurance policy and a bridging strategy, we’ll look at rail as an option to get to the highest value markets.
CM: What does leadership mean to you?
RK: I think leadership is a tremendous responsibility. It is less about an organization working for you and more you working for the organization. In my role as a leader, there are certain things that the organization relies on me to do: to have a clear strategy, a clear vision, to ensure within the organization that we track our performance, we make good decisions, and that we focus our efforts on those things that are the most value-added. I very much believe leadership is not a spectator sport: you have to roll up your sleeves and get involved. [use as pull quote]
Also, I look at it as a fundamental responsibility of leadership to make it easier for your organization to do what’s most important. And that comes from the top—from what you ask people to do and how you ask them to do it. I spend a lot of time looking at why do we do things a certain way, and ask, “Is there a better, simpler way we could do it?”
CM: You’re relatively new as CEO at Imperial, and leadership change can be unsettling for employees. How have you addressed this?
RK: I’m a strong believer in communication within organizations. Having been with Exxon/Mobil, some folks in the organization knew me, but I was brand new to the vast majority. So some of the first things we did is a number of employee forums where I went around to our major facilities, our refineries, our big production operations here in Alberta and I spent time talking to people. I didn’t have slides or Powerpoints; I just talked to people. I wanted to take the mystery out of who the new guy was, I wanted to ensure they understood how I see the business, and how I’ll approach it, and then I wanted to talk about the priorities and opportunities that I think Imperial Oil has.
CM: What do you think is the greatest opportunity in the oil and gas industry that not enough people are aware of?
RK: I talk to a lot of young employees nowadays coming into the industry and when you look at the age demographics and the number of people retiring in the years ahead, I say to young individuals in our company, “What a wonderful opportunity for you! You’re coming into an industry that the world cannot live without, and you will have infinite opportunities ahead of you.”
This is a fantastic industry to be in. You’ve got a strong, growing demand for your products, you have some of the best technology to work with, and you’re really addressing some of society’s toughest challenges in terms of how do you provide safe, affordable, reliable energy, but do it in a way that meets the social needs and considerations of not only the current generation but future generations. So I think if you want to be at the core of how the world goes about in dealing with some of its challenges, I think the oil and gas industry is the place to be.
CM: What industry accomplishment are you proudest of?
RK: I don’t know if there’s any single item I would flag, but I remember the very early days in the early 80’s when industry was just starting to dabble in things like horizontal drilling. I was a drilling engineer for arguably the first horizontal well that Exxon drilled in 1984. It was drilled several hundred feet horizontally—and now you look at what the industry is able to do today with fundamentally the same technology.
THE PERSONAL SIDE
CM: What personally inspires you?
RK: Greatness. I admire and am inspired by greatness, whether by a sports team, a world-class athlete, a corporate leader or the leader of a country.
CM: If you weren’t in oil and gas what do you imagine you’d be doing right now?
RK: One of two things, no question in my mind. I’d be a baseball coach or I’d be a college professor, and I think in this life of mine there may be time to be both of them before I’m all said and done.
CM: Is there an interest or accomplishment that might surprise people to know about you?
RK: Being a sports coach. I’ve coached baseball for 14 years in a row despite having what I think could probably arguably be considered pretty demanding jobs within Exxon Mobil all over the world. I’ve also coached soccer and basketball. I like spending time with kids and helping them develop their skills, and achieve the satisfaction that goes with accomplishing something. [Now that I’m in Calgary], I’m trying to figure out, maybe there’s a team out there that might need a coach.
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