If being tenacious has anything to do with the successes (and frustrations) that Barb Young has experienced in her career, she thanks the circumstances in her life that she has embraced. "I never believed that there was anything that I could not accomplish," says Barb, a confident, energetic, and outgoing person who has drawn on the breadth of her experience to take on the challenge of providing services as an advisor in career and organizational development to the oil and gas industry.
The first child of an armed forces officer and his wife, Barb was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, where her father was stationed at the time. She and her mother returned to Regina when he went overseas, which is where she subsequently grew up. Her mother, widowed twice, ended up raising four daughters single-handedly. Barb speaks proudly of her mother and three younger sisters and their accomplishments. Her twin sisters have both become medical doctors, while the third sister obtained an MBA and pursued a career in the banking system. In hindsight, Barb reflects that she was probably a generation ahead of her peers as the result of the way in which she was raised. "My mother always had to work and she ingrained in us the need to get an education so that we could make a living on our own."
During high school, Barb was drawn to mathematics because "it is so logical". She also enjoyed athletic pursuits, which ranged from being a cheerleader for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to playing basketball – a game that she continued to pursue while a university student. Barb attended university in Regina in her first year, transferring to the University of Saskatchewan for the balance of her university career and graduated with distinction in mathematics.
Barb was married while at university and spent the first four years after graduation teaching at Walter Murray Collegiate in Saskatoon. Teaching mathematics and physical education turned out to be good experience in helping her prepare for an oil patch career which would involve technology, education, and dealing with a variety of people in both office and field environments.
During the 1960's Barb and her husband Gerry (a former systems specialist, now turned professional photographer) moved to Calgary. She went to work for Geophysical Services Inc. Like many of her contemporaries, she pursued the learning of geophysics through formal courses and personal study while working in the field. This desire for continuous learning has served her well and has built a love of learning which she has carried throughout her career and which is the basis of its current focus.
While at GSI, Barb was fortunate to work for Dave Einarsson, who led the Calgary operation at the time. He had the courage to move her into the position of party chief, a position which had not been filled by a woman in the organization before. It's with excitement that she recalls, "When I first started at GSI they had just gone digital and it was a great place to learn the technology related to seismic acquisition and processing. They were using the most advanced systems and technology of the time." While she was there GSI introduced their first migration program and the first multiple attenuation program to deal with water bottom multiples in offshore data. Her teaching background was invaluable in the provision of both formal and informal instruction to peers and people working on her team as these new techniques were introduced.
The earlier than expected arrival of her first daughter some 25 years ago resulted in a fellow employee having to drive Barb to a Calgary hospital from the office. She can still remember his concern that the baby might arrive before they got there. After the baby was born, Barb decided to try staying at home. She enjoyed being with her young daughter, but had become used to working and found that she missed it – and the money came in handy as well! After a year, and on the suggestion of a former colleague, she went to work for SeiscanDelta Ltd., moving into the position of processing supervisor. For a while she tried working part-time, "but that just resulted in working full-time for part-time salary, so I decided that I might as well get a full-time job that offered opportunity for growth."
She speaks fondly of working for Seiscan, and in particular for Tury Taner, who was the technical gum and leader of the company at the time. "Tury introduced so many new innovations to the industry you could just see the ideas rolling out. In particular, the work he did in the areas of automatic statics and attribute analysis led the industry. " Tury, like many people in the geophysical industry, was very supportive of her career and she continues to follow the progress of his subsequent industry initiatives.
Barb likes to joke that she joined Petro-Canada in 1978 as "a volunteer". Receiving an employee number in the 300 series when she first began there as a senior geophysicist put her in the initial group that subsequently grew to around 10,000. Life at Petro-Canada for the next 13 years, was both challenging and varied. Her career progressed from pure geophysical work to technical education, and then to professional development, which expanded in 1989 to include the role of manager of new technology in Exploration. She had a wide variety of opportunities in these functions and multi-tasking was a skill that became fine-honed.
During this period she helped to establish and subsequently supervised the in-house geophysical processing operation. She was also involved with setting up of an internal billing system that would ensure that internal processing was efficient and could compare its costs with external resources on a competitive basis, something she is very proud of accomplishing in a major organization.
Barb then was given the opportunity to move into the Research department to set up a training department similar to that in major oil companies whose head offices were in the US and Europe. There she provided programs for the development of the exploration and engineering departments in the company. Developing and delivering new programs through industry experts and with internal staff was a major part of this function. "We wanted to focus on local people to provide training rather than bringing in Americans or sending our people to the United States. As a consequence, we were the initial supporters of many of the programs that later came to be recognized by the Calgary community."
While Petro-Canada was working on behalf of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) on technology transfer programs in the energy sector for developing countries, Barb had the opportunity to work in the international arena, setting up and managing many such programs. While she traveled primarily to the Philip pines and Thailand, her work developed and delivered programs for Vietnam, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua, Yemen, Ecuador, Nepal, Ghana, Guyana, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya , Tanzania and Gambia. Using Canadian instructors, she developed an exploration school for participants from nine countries and organized technical and business programs for people from all levels within national oil companies in many countries. In addition she assisted Petro-Canada's commercial operations internationally, helping to prepare managers for foreign assignments and delivering programs to meet contractual obligations for training of local nationals.
Such a life never had a dull moment. While she and her staff were running the Exploration School she recalls having participants from the Middle East arrive to find that not only were they in a class with people from Africa, which caused them concern, but that the program director was a woman. "We had a little rough water over that initially", recalls Barb, but notes that it took about three days for them to get over it and that she received Christmas cards from them for years after. Barb emphasizes the need to learn about other cultures before crossing borders to do business. "There are subtleties that can become major issues. Sometimes people think that because you are independent and female in the business world that you are consequently aggressive or militant. I have found that it is more important to respect people's customs and feelings, both at home and abroad." She has seldom experienced prejudice in other countries and feels that people judge you in the international community predominately on what you accomplish.
Some people think that international work is glamorous. Barb will tell you about eating raw oysters on one of her trips and suffering extensively as a consequence. When she visited her doctor at home she had lost 20 pounds and was told she was lucky, to be alive. Since then she has made a point when traveling to tell people that she has a weak stomach and can eat anything, as long as it is cooked!
After leaving Petro-Canada during the downturn of the early 90's, Barb set up Highland Technology, a firm that provided services in the areas of technology transfer, career development, and organizational effectiveness. In conjunction with this she set up the Calgary Petroleum Technology Transfer Centre as a division of IHRDC, a Boston based firm with worldwide operations which specializes in technical and management training for the petroleum industry. The Centre in Calgary was designed to provide joint delivery of technological development to a number of companies through a membership program and included over 16 companies in its membership roster. "Study tours" of the oil and gas industry were also developed and delivered in cooperation with local companies - these covered such diverse areas as production engineering for ONCC in India, oil and gas pipelines for Russian management and technical personnel, and drilling in overpressured environments, for Polish national oil company employees. She was also hired by Petro-Canada to provide a training program for Vietnamese and Filipino technical staff in gas processing, and a training program for executives from the Philippines in the liquefaction of natural gas. This program enabled the Filipinos to understand comparable processes in Canada in order to assist them in bringing the gas from their offshore fields into the industrial areas for power generation.
The diversity of work experience Barb has acquired has been facilitated in part by the sound grounding she got in the application of mathematics in the field of geophysics. "Technically, the knowledge of geophysics provides you with the basis for building your understanding in the areas of engineering and geology. You have the theoretical knowledge and the numerical aptitude to understand engineering and you have an insight into the creativity necessary in geological exploration."
More recently, Barb found herself consulting on an ever-increasing basis to Fletcher Challenge Energy, both in Canada and New Zealand. This work has allowed her to bring together and draw on all of her prior experience as she provides advice and program development in the areas of career planning, competency assessment, training programs, staffing, and organizational development. This consulting had grown to the point where it took all of her time and she recently joined the company on a full-time basis. "Fletcher Challenge Energy is a young and enthusiastic company in Calgary. Their staff are not only well focused on the business drivers in oil and gas, but are also very technically competent and have a strong desire to be effective in the application of that technology. The management is very supportive of the development of their staff as a means to reaching success and profitability. I enjoy working with the people here and in New Zealand and I find this a good place to be", says Barb about working for Fletcher Challenge.
While peers from the past may have questioned her motives in continuing to work, Barb simply puts her reason for existence in her strong desire to learn and help others succeed in their lives. The road she has chosen has been less traveled by, other women who grew up when she did. Still, she has not allowed being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated environment to deter her spirit. She's had her share of setbacks, but they have been more than compensated for by the love of her family and the good people she has been fortunate enough to encounter in her work. While combining a career with motherhood has not always been easy, her children have been very supportive and she beams with pride when speaking of her two daughters, her son, and her five-year old grandson.
In part as a means of thanking the geophysical community for the support they have provided her, Barb has volunteered generously of her time for the CSEG, a society that she has been a member of for over 20 years. She has chaired the CSEG Convention Exhibits committee several times, been a technical editor for the "Recorder", introduced special events such as "jug hustling" and the "vib pull" as regular aspects of convention activity, chaired last years Geo-Triad exhibits committee and was nominated and ran for the position of CSEG president.
Still, Barb has found time to serve on Alberta's Round Table on the Economy, acted on industry committees for technical programs at N.A.I.T., S.A.I.T., and Mount Royal College, and has chaired the Leadership Diversity Committee for the Faculty of Management at the U of C. She has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Advisory Council for that faculty, and is a member of the board for a women's shelter. Spare time finds her with her bridge club or skiing with her family, even though she says they often now leave her far behind. An occasional actor with an amateur theatre group in Bragg Creek, Barb has filled the roles of such characters as an old lady, a drunken man, and an evil tree!
Except for her age, which she has refused to divulge during a two-hour interview, Barb is willing to talk about most of her experiences in business and life. "I have always liked people. I try to treat people with respect and fairness and hope that I will be treated the same in return."