FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Kelly Ogle
April 18, 2017
He describes himself as “a bit OCD”, and I’d have to add: survivor, relentless, driven, formidable, indefatigable … but I’ve only spent a short time with him so far …
It started with some wells on the farm – fast forward a few decades, and he’s running an independent think tank, influencing public foreign policy.
Think of those as book-ends to a very long shelf of experience and achievement, thrills and spills.
We’ve met thanks to George Brookman bringing us and a group together; I’m glad he did – in Kelly I’ve met someone with whom I have more in common than my Saskatchewan birth certificate, and we had a lot of fun doing this interview. I usually schedule 90 minutes for these interviews, but Kelly took two sessions! He says he’s an expressive story teller, but I would add ‘sociable’ and the ‘healthy seniors omelet for two, and we did it twice’ at Denny’s, two early mornings, that did the trick. If you’ve been around Calgary and/or the oil patch very long – you’ve likely heard of Kelly Ogle or crossed his path, and any resume of his covers a lot of geography, a lot of wells, a lot of capital raising, a little trouble-making and a lot of fun.
Oil patch money raiser, fun raiser, shake-things-up guy has morphed (he’s still shaking trees) into a substantial career shift – first with a refocusing of his academic career, his love of history, political science and policy making – to leading a public policy advocacy organization, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, where he is President. And, in his spare time, keeping his hand in oil patch finance advisory work at Grafton Asset Management, family and his work as Board Chair at Silvera For Seniors.
But first, let's go back to where it all began, in the Kindersley, SK hospital. Raised in nearby Coleville, first born of three children, Kelly has two sisters. Mom was a nurse, dad was field foreman in the oil patch. Schooling, K-12 in Kindersley except for grade 11 in Humboldt – playing hockey for the Humboldt Broncos. His hockey career was fun but not stellar on the 4th line. He wanted to go to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana but didn’t have the marks or funds, so University of Saskatchewan it was – he earned a B.A. in Political Science [his follow-up, at 50, a Masters in Strategic Studies at University of Calgary]. Through school days he worked with dad, worked as a welder’s helper – got his pressure welder’s ticket, worked hard, played hard and “didn’t know I had a drinking problem”.
And then he ‘got into the oil business’ – which began a story that took two hours in the telling; they bought some wells in 1977, upped their production and paid for them quickly; what followed has been 30 years of adventures, firstly on Saskatchewan properties, joint-ventures, the Devine government gave a royalty holiday, development spiked, work with CN Exploration, ‘party time’ continued as Kelly worked hard and played harder, move to Calgary in 1982 to ‘learn the business’. Owned an airplane, two Jags, golf at Bearspaw, then 1985 happened …
Downturns happen. Kelly got sober, married Barb (they’re still together), they have two children, one adopted and one from Barb's prior marriage. And they lost one. This is where ‘tough guy’ Kelly’s voice cracked and tears appeared – the story is sad and not for re-telling here, but clearly a turning point in their lives …
Oil patch in 86, ‘hangin’ on’, sold out in 87, Road King business, dad’s heart attack in 91 caused a re-focusing on the farm, bought Ponoka-area production in 89, built to 300 barrels/day, drilling wells – and then, July 4, 1992, “my wife said, ‘you have a drinking problem’. That day was my last drink.” Blind pools, took over Carmanah Resources, made a deal with Dick Gusella – then a string of deals, corporate carpentry at Connacher, then a series of new companies in which he got involved (GeoDyne, Leucrotta, Upper Lake, Trafina), back to school part-time while working.
While he was finishing that degree he also did the I.C.D courses, was serving as a director at Connacher, got really interested in Chinese Energy security. Then, his back to school plan intertwined with his desire to write a book about the oil patch and to interview ‘the old guys’ while they were still around – which got him talking with some profs at U of C, and soon his answer to ‘write something for us’ produce the paper he wrote about Vimy. He must have done OK, because that led to application to the faculty – lots of classes and a thesis – Canada-U.S. Energy Interdependence and the Keystone Project – link to 185 page PDF.
In 2012, things weren’t going well at Connacher Oil & Gas Ltd. – change of CEO, selling assets and reorganization, finishing the thesis for his M.S.S. and he joined Rick Grafton at Grafton Asset Management, as Strategic Advisor. “They gave me a desk and we got involved in some deals including a $200 million JV with Bellatrix, started Five Square Energy but it wouldn’t fly. I’ve continued my relationship with them, but was looking for something new in spring/2016”. Kelly defended his thesis in June 2014 and convocated Nov. 14/14. “My wife deserves every bit as much credit as me – I was working on it every night and every Saturday for three years.”
“I was looking for opportunities – talked with Ian Wild at ATB. He is a director and Chairman at CGAI, and he told me they were looking for a new CEO, he put me in touch with Brent Shervey who was doing the search – interviews, negotiation – and in September 2016 we both said yes and I came on board. I still have a connection with Grafton and am Board Chair at Silvera – I look at that as giving back”.
What is the focus of CGAI? “We are smaller and more focused than other think-tanks (i.e., C.D. Howe et al) – we are focused on defense, security and trade, on development and the export of democracy. My role as President is rainmaking and visibility. We’ve assembled the best advisory council in Canada, we are cross-political – and nobody does a better job analyzing defense strategy than we do.”
Why are you successful? “I’m a good person – I try to do the next right thing, and sometimes the next right thing is really hard. My life has been fun.”
What has held you back? “Ego – mine. Alcohol. Impulsiveness – acting without thinking. Short-term thinking.”
How do you see your business – independent think tank – going forward over the next quarter?
… there is a lot of opportunity, a great time for Canada as a respected country to influence change in NATO and NAFTA. We have a strong roster of fellows across Canada, and our federal government leaders and policy makers welcome our input …
And over the next five years?
… there are a lot of pots on the stove, all approaching ‘boil’; U.S., Russia, China, North Korea, the Middle East …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… past relationships – loyal to quality. I’m a value shopper.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Kelly Ogle, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’m not a bid-ask guy. If you want to do another deal with someone in the future, you have to leave something on the table.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… flat. Inclusive, and I like to generate consensus – but if someone has to make a decision, I’ll make it.
… got it! I hang up my coat at 6:00PM, and I don’t work Sundays.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I don’t. You’ve got to live one day at a time …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… recovery. I’m 25 years sober. Tom Jacobsen, a friend of my dad’s, who got me involved in oil & gas – he taught me a lot of ‘what not to do’. Dick Gusella – brilliant guy, taught me how to run a public company and raise money and it’s sad that we are no longer speaking …
… golf (4 hdcp) at Calgary Golf & Country Club, spending time at the lake – we have a place in the Shuswap and a 1938 Chris-Craft boat.
What do you read?
… biographies. Right now, Bismarck and one on Bobby Jones.
… 1993 GMC pickup. We live in Elboya, so I walk to work. My wife drives a Ford Flex. And I have a treasure – 1940 Ford Coupe.
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