For many, Syncrude is a family business.
Take for example, Narry Ramnath, Kerry Barwick, Ankar Dhillon and Clarissa Ballesteros Dhillon. They are a few of the second generation of families to work at Syncrude and have built upon what their parents helped establish in the 1970s and 1980s. Contributions from two generations helped Syncrude reach a major milestone earlier this month. The company has now produced three billion barrels of oil, making it the largest single source of crude production in Canada’s history.
“We’ve had challenges that have tested us but we’ve come together and managed to meet them to reach this fantastic milestone,” says Kerry, who now serves as Syncrude’s bitumen production maintenance manager, overseeing more than 200 employees and 500 contractors. “You realize you are part of something special, especially when we’ve overcome so much, from wildfires to reliability events to major changes in our business brought by technology, regulation and competition.”
Ankar and Clarissa, who met during the orientation lunch at Syncrude’s summer student program in 2004 and married in 2014, see what they do today as building on the foundation established by their fathers and the generation who worked at Syncrude in the 1970s and 1980s.
“My dad Perry worked in the mine then as a welder while Clarissa’s dad Bernie was a geologist,” says Ankar, who serves as Syncrude’s manager for Conversion, overseeing the fluid cokers that convert bitumen into hydrocarbon streams blended to make Syncrude Sweet Premium.
There has always been a real pride in our workplace. Folks show commitment to get the job done and that’s reflected in this milestone. Our fathers are proud – they still see themselves as part of what’s happened today even though they are retired. They remain part of the Syncrude family.
– Ankar Dhillon
That connection started for Narry as a child, when his father Sam was recruited to join the company for the start of operations while his mother Stella joined the company once the family was settled after moving from Toronto to Fort McMurray. “We moved to the Silin Forest neighbourhood and it was so different than what we knew,” says Narry, whose brother Kumar also works for Syncrude. “A lot of the kids had buggywhips on their BMXs and we had no idea why. It turns out they were Syncrude kids and soon we wound up getting buggywhips on our bikes, too. Our parents became friends with their coworkers and we played with their kids so you grew up as Syncrude families.”
Growing up as “Syncrude kids” had perks – Clarissa still has a teddy bear from the annual Christmas party for children of employees that she attended as a child. But the company’s commitment to the community through investing in programs and facilities made a big impression, too. “When you grow up in Fort McMurray, you get exposed to it, whether it’s school field trips to the Oil Sands Discovery Centre to getting opportunities to work on site as a post-secondary student, as I did with the Syncrude summer student program,” says Clarissa, a corporate counsel in Syncrude’s Law and Land department.
Kerry’s father didn’t push her to work at Syncrude. Instead he mentioned a job opportunity as she was graduating from Fort McMurray Composite High School in 1986. “He never came home and talked about work, ever,” says Kerry, who has earned her instrumentation tech ticket and a university degree while working at Syncrude with the company’s support. “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 as an administrative assistant. I’ve been afforded many opportunities, including being able to further my education, to turn that job into a career.”
Narry, by contrast, found opportunities at Syncrude to apply his university degree and public relations diploma, which he left Fort McMurray to pursue after high school. “What I realized is my education could apply in many different roles and career paths here. The opportunities at Syncrude are astounding,” says Narry, who now administers a business management system following turns as a heavy equipment operator, process operator and shift team leader earlier in his career.
In addition to their jobs at Syncrude, Ankar and Clarissa have a new job title as parents to a newborn baby girl. And while there won’t be any pressure from her parents, Ankar is confident she will have the same opportunities as he did should she follow her father, mother and grandfathers into the family business at Syncrude. “She will make her own decisions, just like Clarissa and I did,” he says. “But we would be proud and her grandparents would be proud if she joined Syncrude and was part of producing the next three billion barrels.”
Narry Ramnath, Area Leader, Assessment & Improvement
and Site OIMS Coordinator, Health, Safety and Environment
Ankar Dhillon, Manager, Conversion, and Clarissa
Ballesteros Dhillon, Corporate Counsel, Law
Main photo: Kerry Barwick, Manager, Bitumen Production Maintenance