2012 Conference: When 1+1 Equals More Than 2
The combination of two entities is often referred to as synergistic when the result is greater than the sum of its parts, such as in a corporate merger. In a Lead and Learn session, Suncor shared the story of what that meant for two strong community involvement programs.
Suncor and Petro-Canada announced their merger on March 23, 2009, and became the largest energy company in Canada, with more than 12,000 employees. While both companies had very successful community involvement programs, there were underlying differences in how they carried out these programs. Petro-Canada’s program had a national focus and an emphasis on marketing, while Suncor’s was driven by shareholders and operated more regionally in Alberta.
The initial merging of these programs was not synergistic, with the clear differences presenting challenges in developing one common program. The process of understanding each other’s unique approach and knitting together a symbiotic one that worked for both cultures took some trial and error while providing valuable lessons.
In the past 10 years, Suncor has invested more than $110 million in its communities through the Suncor Energy Foundation (SEF) and Community Sponsorships. Suncor was also one of the first companies to publish an audited sustainability report. Cathy Glover, Suncor’s director of stakeholder relations and community investment, explained that before the merger the company’s community programs focused on sustainability. A healthy environment, strong economy and social well-being were parts of its sustainable development.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know”
The first period following the announcement of the merger proved valuable as employees within the community involvement programs could only discuss high-level strategy, Glover said. This gave time to the departments to become familiar with each other prior to the close of the merger. As the business moved forward at a rapid pace, these programs also tried to do so with an ambitious 100-day plan put in place to create one common plan.
Challenge 1: Lean staff, lean budget
They were further challenged by a lean staff – fewer than five full-time employees – and an equally lean budget: less than the combined budgets of the two programs. Eighty percent of the goals were not met until eight months after the 100-day deadline.
Challenge 2: Resisting pressure to say no
One of the saving graces of the merger, according to Glover, was that there were not a lot of quick decisions to keep or let go organizations for funding. Community involvement programs were still in effect during the transition, including multiple United Way campaigns at various sites, as well as the sponsorship of the Vancouver Olympics.
“We are all interconnected”
As the integration of the two programs experienced challenges, the new community involvement department took a few steps back and did some introspection, including contacting the University of Waterloo and eventually partnering for the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo project.
Nancy Mattes, director of Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo, said one of the key aspects of this collaboration was open communication and getting individuals with very different perspectives in the same room to identify and work out issues, plans and strategies together. The Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo’s approach includes the notion of equal partners, i.e., the “funder” does not hold all the power. Suncor and the nonprofits are working together to focus on the issues, get at the root cause of the problems, and help develop programs with long-term impact.
The company’s community involvement eventually went through the following three main iterations in developing its strategy:
Attempt 1: Energy for sustainable communities
Attempt 2: Integrated model
Attempt 3: Realizing possibilities together: Involve, commit, inspire.
The third model involves supporting communities by investing in five areas, including the engagement of citizens and development of skills and knowledge. The major attributes of this strategy are the focus on sustainability (position), looking for solutions and measuring outcomes (proactive), and using a systems-oriented approach (integrated).
Today, Suncor’s strategy is much more than transactional, and has evolved into one that is both long-term and truly transformative.