publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Heather Douglas
October 15, 2013
Who is Heather Douglas?
I met her for coffee – she said she’d be the only redhead in the place, so she was easy to find. And she taught me some new (new to me at least) philosophy – brains without borders, servant leadership. She is full of stories and she shared a few clever ones with me. I felt enriched by the experience.
“Glad to be out of the public spotlight”, she says. Currently pausing in self-described semi-retirement – taking a break while awaiting spinal surgery – either way it seems odd for someone who has led such an active and eclectic career. Further exploration reveals she is working for ‘some clients’, so retirement is not exactly the vector she’s on.
Her accomplishments have been many – and name-dropping would be easy, she’s been part of the Calgary business and oil & gas scene for large chunks of her career with very interesting stints as an Editor at the Daily Oil Bulletin, public affairs at Mobil in the pre-Exxon merger days, VP Gov. Affairs at Atomic Energy of Canada, first executive director of SEPAC (now EPAC), first woman President at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and more recently as VP Communications and External Affairs at Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. – has seen her involved in public consultations and getting the message out from Fort McMurray to Hibernia, to Sable Island back again. A self described principle strategist, she cites a cultural sensitivity learned in her early years – knowing how ‘not to offend’, finding solutions when all parties win – were essential ingredients in her primary roles as a problem solver. She recalls early on in her petroleum industry career, wondering about the day when “‘the world would turn against this commodity”.
Interviewing a professional message-master is challenging – because I expected to be given exactly what is planned, no more, no less. It comes with charm of course, carefully measured with just a certain amount of comedy and drama. As well, every bit the polite professional, she let me have the feeling I’d pulled some of it out of her . . . but on personal matters I didn’t get beyond identifying one divorce, no kids, a big dog lover who is currently caretaking two smaller specimens. And . . . her outfits always match her hair.
She ‘returned’ to the prairies with Canadian parents – settling in Three Hills when Heather Douglas was 16. A tri-lingual (English, Tagalog and Mandarin) several times a re-transplanted Calgarian …it might be better to describe her as a global citizen who has made Calgary her primary home. Born in Manila - her dad was an anthropologist – the professor kind – and mom worked with him so travel was frequent. Attending boarding school was a necessary part of growing up for Heather, youngest of 4 children . . .
I asked Heather how she sees the marketplace and public landscape from a communicators perspective, over the next 90 day?
… integrity is in a state of flux. Communication is dialog, changing the art/service of how to explain is the PR challenge.
Over the next 5 years?
… hope that leaders will know how to communicate and build relationships vis-a-vie a data dump, to explain things in context
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… people I can trust, people I can serve – I like to help them in return.
What distinguishes you that causes people choose Heather to do business with – why are you selected over your competitors?
… global perspective, different culture approach to problem solving.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I would like to see politics done differently.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Carl Nickle. Arne Nielsen. 30 years of office politics. My first grade teacher who taught me the world of reading at age 5. I read a book a day. .
Work life balance?
… my bucket list is empty! (south African safari, understanding Hong Kong, exploring Malta. Dog walking, reading.
What are you reading?
… everything. I read a book a day. Part of my house-renovation is making room for my books (I have about 5,000). I like political science, history, pop culture, biographies. I asked for a ‘single’ recommendation – and “Raymond and Hannah is a good read!” was the result.
… 2013 Ford Explorer – it parks itself. Light blue, of course. Everything I have matches my hair.