Different paths paved by opportunity lead to upper management at Syncrude

Several thousand kilometres and the Atlantic Ocean separate the steel mills and coal pits of south Yorkshire from the windswept Prairie of southeastern Saskatchewan.

But from those distinct starting points, Kerry Barwick and Roslyn Darroch have made their way into Syncrude’s upper management by blazing different trails marked by similar signposts.

On International Women’s Day, marked annually on March 8 to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements, both Kerry and Roslyn are happy for the opportunities they’ve received in their careers at Syncrude.

Roslyn is the first woman to manage Syncrude’s Hydroprocessing business unit, overseeing 29 plants and 195 employees and embedded contractors that upgrade light gas oil, heavy gas oil and naphtha to Syncrude Sweet Premium by adding hydrogen and removing sulphur.

“Hard work and dedication will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go at Syncrude,” says Roslyn, a native of Maryfield, Sask., who joined Syncrude in 2006.

“I’m incredibly proud to be the first woman to manage this business unit. Syncrude has been very consistent in offering opportunities for people who work hard and get the job done.”

That extends right to the top of the organization, where Doreen Cole was recently appointed as Syncrude’s top executive in late 2017

“Doreen is here because she’s demonstrated she’s capable of leading this organization,” says Kerry. “It’s no different than what I’ve experienced in my career. You have to put in the work but if you can prove you can do the job, the opportunities will come. And not because you are a female; it’s what you’ve done that counts.”

Kerry joined Syncrude in 1986 as a receptionist for the Central Maintenance Services shop. She now oversees that shop as well as 300 employees and up to 300 contractors as manager for Maintenance Services. Along the way, she earned her ticket as an instrumentation tech and her university degree.

“I took a couple of typing courses in high school so I knew where the home keys were and that’s why I was hired. In order to turn that job into a career, I needed to go back to school,” says Kerry, who emigrated to Canada at 14 and graduated from Fort McMurray Composite High School in 1986.

“I’ve been afforded many opportunities, including being able to further my education. I started as a receptionist but wound up doing an apprenticeship and learning a trade. I later earned my university degree, which has opened more doors and more roles.”

Kerry’s father worked at Syncrude for 25 years as a millwright in Utilities and Offsites but she never imagined following in his footsteps.

“When I was growing up, I wanted to be a Phys. Ed teacher. I had a fantastic coach back in England. I wanted to emulate her to a T,” says Kerry, whose department looks after everything from vehicles to overhead doors to HVAC systems to cranes. “But my life took a different path. I did not envision myself going into the trades but an apprenticeship was offered to me. Even back then, I recognized it was an opportunity. I probably would not have received it anywhere else. And it turned into something great.”

Both Roslyn and Kerry sit on the steering committee for the Syncrude’s Women’s Interest Network, which offers mentorship, personal development, networking opportunities, ways to become involved in the community and more.

This is a support network and we regularly bring in speakers but many of the topics are not gender-specific so we welcome everybody’s participation

Kerry barwick

Roslyn, who graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Manitoba, also sees Syncrude’s community investment in Fort McMurray as helping make the community a better place for families to settle.

“When I joined Syncrude, my leader told me, ‘We want you to grow roots here and get involved in the community.’ I’ve taken that to heart,” says Roslyn, who has two sons aged 10 and 13. “We have a great life in Fort McMurray. We do a lot together as a family. I’ve been able to strike a healthy balance and enjoy the best of both worlds. As a family, we really enjoy the Vista Ridge facility and appreciate that Syncrude sponsored the bison chair lift. We actually volunteered at the Alberta Winter Games last month as part of the mogul course crew. Syncrude is based in Fort McMurray and investing $6 million into the community every year demonstrates they care about the community and quality of life here.”

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