Profile: Christine Healy
November 3, 20143 November 2014
A Canadian with international appeal.
Christine Healy has negotiated major deals in her career, including multi-billion dollar oil and gas transactions off Canada’s East Coast. It’s thrilling work. But she’s quick to remember a smaller deal she negotiated as a teenager that’s paid dividends for a lifetime.
The deal? She convinced a wonderful but intimidating nun to sign papers that allowed her to apply for, and eventually earn, a two-year scholarship to attend Pearson College, a pre-university school in Victoria.
The nun, the principal at Healy’s all-girls Catholic school in St. John’s, was adamant that Healy’s marks weren’t good enough. After first “begging and pleading” Healy found a solution.
“It completely changed my life from that moment forward,” says Healy, now living in Houston and vice president of commercial and business development in North America for Statoil, a Norwegian multinational oil and gas company.
“I said, ‘Sister if no one with better marks applies, will you sign my papers?’” She conceded. Healy’s prayers were answered and at 16 she moved across the country to join students from 75 countries where she was stimulated academically and socially.
Later, she would thoroughly enjoy her studies at Osgoode Hall Law School where she graduated in 1996; work in private practice in Calgary and St. John’s; move in-house as a natural resources lawyer for the Newfoundland and Labrador government in 2005: and then join the government’s business side where she co-led negotiations on the $15-billion White Rose extension agreement, followed by the $28-billion Hebron deal in 2008.
“I get asked a lot about switching over from law to the business side. How did I make the transition? I just did. I’m sure I didn’t always do the best of jobs at every moment of the process but I learned all the way and I got better.”
Healy joined Statoil’s St. John’s office in 2010 because there were few provincial deals on the horizon and the business side of oil and gas was in her blood. Two years ago she relocated to Houston for a new job. “We jumped at it,” she says, referring to her husband, two sons, a Boxer dog and one “big aggressive cat.”
The timing wasn’t perfect. Evan, 12, and Garrett, 9, were in the middle of school and still miss their “long-tailed” Newfoundland family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Competitive springboard divers, they’ve made new friends through the sport. But her husband Craig Young, an engineer, transferred seamlessly with his company and works full-time.
Four thousand kilometres from St. John’s and a world away in weather—“it’s always nice here”—Healy feels at home in Houston. “People look after their communities, after their friends. They give a lot of time. There’s a huge volunteer charitable commitment that happens in Houston that I don’t know I was aware of when I moved here.”
Healy says that culturally the U.S. is very much a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of culture, particularly in the southern U.S. “That permeates everything here. There’s less of a faith in delivery of these things by government and more sense that people should just do them on their own.”
At Statoil, Healy leads and manages a team of about 30 people seeking oil and gas opportunities in North America and doing the transactions. A small drawback is that she’s no longer the one piecing together intricate agreements that always motivated her.
“If you are negotiating for an oil and gas deal, it’s not like trying to buy a car where you’re negotiating for a big win,” she explains. “There is going to be a relationship between the government and the companies involved for 25-plus years. And so you have to negotiate in a different way and find that solution. It’s not always directly right in front of you. You have to hunt for it. That’s the challenge, trying to find that. I really love that.”
Today, she’s highly energized when her team delivers on deals that are sustainable and well done because her people had the space, freedom and skills to make it happen. “I don’t know if I’m getting older, or more mature, but that really inspires me. It gets me all excited, fired up.”
Healy, who spends many weekends travelling in Texas to diving meets, plays piano and flute in her spare time and also gives back. A former “Top 40 Under 40” in Canada, she sits on Pearson College’s board of directors, enjoys speaking to groups in Houston and in August gave the keynote address at the CCCA’s luncheon in St. John’s as part of the CBA Legal Conference. She’s often asked about career choices and changes she’s made.
“For me, the early guidance I got from a mentor, and it seems obvious, but you have to enjoy what you’re doing. I have to be challenged. I grow bored. I need to have something new. You have to understand what motivates you at work. Then if you find opportunities that feed that, you need to take them.”
Young people, early in their careers, need to “suck up” as much experience as they can. There’s time later on to make choices about what a person’s most interested in and then set out on that path.
Personally, Healy’s enjoyed an adventure every step of the way. At 16 she learned the value of moving far away from comfortable St. John’s, a great place to grow up and live but somewhat “isolated,” to go to Pearson College. It proved the perfect environment for a young brain ready to absorb new ideas. “It was fantastic to get the perspective of people from so many places. You get a different sense of your place in the world or who you are in relation to the world.”
Even small things, like setting the thermostat, had an impact. “You have a roommate from the far north and you have one who is from Africa and freezing all the time. You are trying to figure out a way to make everybody happy. That provided practical experience in communicating and getting along with people.”
Now in Houston and relishing a new culture and work challenge, Healy’s “blessed” to have a husband and kids who accepted a major change in their lives for her career. And if an opportunity to transfer internationally arose? The family would sit down and figure it out together, she says. That’s how the deal works.
Michael Dempster is a writer based in Calgary.