‘Apollo Project Of Our Time’ Aptly Describes Oil & Gas Companies’ Drive To Net-Zero, Says Krausert

Kevin Krausert

In the DOB’s Engaging with our Future leadership series, Bill Whitelaw, managing director of Sustainability and Strategy at geoLOGIC systems ltd., sits down with some of the best and brightest CEOs in the industry to unpack the issues surrounding the energy transition and what kind of leadership is needed.

Today, Bill’s conversation with Kevin Krausert, CEO and co-founder of Avatar Innovations Inc.

For Kevin Krausert, leadership means unlocking the potential in people.

And, he believes, reaching net zero by 2050 is the “single-biggest economic opportunity of our generation.”

For Krausert, “people potential,” energy transition and emissions reduction go hand-in-hand.

As the CEO and co-founder of Avatar Innovations Inc., Krausert isn’t naïve about the net-zero ambition. Indeed, for him it will require a Herculean effort to achieve the “Apollo project of our time.”

But key is unlocking potential and infusing in people a sense of larger purpose: that a net-zero aspiration is possible. That’s the underlying leadership premise on which Avatar Innovations is built. Avatar is both a project and a process, fused by a sense of purpose (see sidebar).

Understandably, Avatar has had a lot of attention since its inception in 2020. For Krausert, keeping Avatar tracking to purpose despite all the noise is key to its leadership focus.

Question: What was on your mind regarding leadership when you left the office last night?

Answer: “Interestingly enough, last night I left the office to go and debrief with 12 to 14 volunteers who have really been providing a lot of the horsepower behind Avatar while creating a space of belonging and inclusion for people passionate about emerging technologies.

If you can create a space where people fit in, belong and feel valued the inherent risk of new and emerging technology becomes more manageable because you’ve de-risked the culture where people are willing to try new things and learn from failures.

So I think a lot around building community. Any business is really just an assemblage of people at its core, for good or for bad. And so how do you connect those people with a little bit deeper of a purpose than showing up for a job or getting a paycheque? When you can connect those two pieces it is pretty remarkable what people can accomplish. The world and the energy industry are in a period of unprecedented, exponential disruption … and being able to navigate that can only really be done with a strong foundation of people belonging to the vision of what they’re working on.”

Q: What’s your sense of our leadership performance when it comes to talking about our technology competencies?

A: “This is obviously a debate that our industry has long struggled with: ‘How do we tell our story better? How do we showcase the great technologies we’re working on?‘ I think that it’s the wrong question to ask because, clearly, no one is listening outside of our industry.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: ‘How do we tell our story differently?’ The reality is there are incredible technologies, investments and work being done in our industry which make us the most responsible producer of hydrocarbons in the world.

Then, as a result, there’s this understandable belief that, well, we just need to explain what we’re doing better, or we need to educate people. But education doesn’t work when there’s an absence of trust and how we rebuild that trust with a skeptical public is what we need to be thinking and focusing on.

So the pivot Avatar has done is rather than educate about all the phenomenal stuff the industry’s doing, we’re demonstrating that the industry is a meaningful and powerful partner in Canada’s, and the planet’s, climate ambitions. And it’s not that big of a pivot, but it’s enough of a pivot to go from being climate villain trying to convince people what we’re doing is not really that bad to go to the front page of The Globe and Mail.”

Q: So, to your mind, trust and leadership go hand-in-hand?

A: “First and foremost, it’s the power of the vision … that oil and gas can, and must, be a meaningful and powerful partner in the energy transition. The second piece is that the people who are going to live in the world of the future need to be the ones who build it. That’s the simple crux to the power of the Avatar vision.

The next step after a powerful vision is creating a space of courage, inclusion and belonging, where everyone feels like they have a role and everyone feels like they can contribute. That takes trust and humility, but it’s the space where big things can happen.”

Q: Is Avatar Innovations prepared for the leadership burden of expectations; in other words, was the world waiting for an Avatar to come along, especially in a pan-Canadian context?

A: “I think if we tried to do Avatar two years ago, I don’t think the industry would have been ready for it — it would have been a bridge too far. I don’t think people would’ve understood the concept. I don’t think the importance of energy transition was a burning priority. So, I think there’s a little bit of timing which led to our incredible corporate support.

We are going to have to keep iterating. I don’t think we’ve got all of the pieces figured out yet but I think we’ve got most of them. There is precedent for the Avatar model in other industries where new technology co-creation and co-development have been implemented to action rapid market adoption.

We’ve simply put the energy industry — and the people in the industry — back in the driver’s seat of the energy transition with one simple idea: if you empower people and companies, they can accomplish bigger things than when they work alone.”

Q: How is Avatar helping its young professional stakeholders discover the leader within, potentially earlier in their careers?

A: “Often in large corporations and for very good reasons you have to divide labour up in very exacting standards. But the reality is that people want to figure out how they can make an impact ... and sometimes that’s tough to do at a large corporation. I used to run one [Beaver Drilling], and I think … the power of how Avatar and our corporate partners are empowering their emerging talent with the ability to make an impact — where they have the chance to see a direct line of sight their work accomplished in implementing a new technology and a real emissions reduction target — [is] new.

The large corporations are always going to need people to optimize compressor stations and optimize drilling well designs. But Avatar provides a forum for talented professionals to connect with a larger vision of what their industry is doing and make a direct impact. It provides the industry with a safe ‘third-space.’”

Q: Can the Avatar model conceptually have a global leadership impact?

A: “[Avatar is] already working with carbon removal companies from … Singapore, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. We are in conversations with some international partners about what international expansion could look like. But what the pandemic has taught us is that it doesn’t actually matter where you are in the world so long as you have an Internet connection.

Initially, though, our focus is to win as many games on our home court as possible. Right now, we’ve just proven the Avatar model with the success of our first investor day — that we can generate industry-needed, validated solutions in a form that is faster, cheaper and simpler than others. We will look at international expansion, but I want to ensure Canada is the unqualified global leader in energy transition first before we expand internationally.”

Q: Does Avatar have a leadership role in inspiring young women and men to consider a career in energy?

A: “Yes, but I think it’s a byproduct of what we’re doing. If we don’t deliver results, nobody will care because then we’re just into ‘telling-our-story-better’ mode.

I think Avatar will help shape a perception around what this industry is … and, again, that’s that pivot I was talking about: how the oil and gas industry can be a meaningful and powerful partner in the planet’s climate ambitions.

We are singularly focused on generating energy transition technologies from within the industry for commercialization and scale by empowering the leadership of tomorrow — but we have to stay focused on delivering results.”

Q: What’s your biggest learning as a leader?

A: “I’d say the biggest learning I’ve generated as a leader is that each one of us has a purpose that’s deeper than our job or our title that connects us to our community, our families and our jobs. And when you can connect your professional life with your purpose, you become unstoppable in delivering results.

And I don’t mean this in some esoteric way — it’s a pretty simple understanding what one’s calling is and each of us knowing when we’re doing it or not.

True leadership is connecting those you have the privilege of working with to their purpose so that when you hit all of the bumps in the road that come in this new world of exponential disruption, you'll get through it, [and] your team will get through it because you’re doing something that is driving value — and not just shareholder value — but real value in a way that makes a lasting impact.”

Q: Can Avatar have a leadership impact directionally on ESG thinking?

A: “There are many different threads on ESG and exactly what it is. And I think there’s some phenomenal work happening ... yet there is a tendency for ESG to just mean the E, though, because it’s the easiest to quantify. Governance standards and social standards are quite a bit harder to put a metric on. With emissions, it’s a number and so it’s a lot easier to kind of focus on in terms of reaching the net zero future by 2050.

The reality is, if you want to invest in companies making the most profound impacts on emissions reduction — you should really be investing in the oil and gas companies of the future. This is the single-greatest opportunity of our generation and the oil and gas industry is, in my opinion, uniquely positioned to pull this off. But it’s going to be a Herculean effort. I often describe it as the Apollo project of our time.”

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