Geophysicists over 50 years is the last of a series on articles about the progression of some geophysicists in their careers. While there are notions and perception that age can be a barrier to career development, CSEG members interviewed for this article proves that this scenario is not the case. Unlike younger geophysicists challenged with raising a family, this mature generation has the time to focus on their work and make major contributions to mentoring and leadership. According to the March 1999 survey conducted by KPMG for A.P.E.G.G.A., about 10 percent of the geophysicists working for 40 Calgary energy companies were over 50 years of age.
Robert Bolton - Entrepreneurial Instinct and Innovation
Robert Bolton, 60, is Chairman and CEO of CanBaikal Resources Inc. in Calgary. The 1963 Carlton University graduate in geology and mathematics credits his entrepreneurial instinct and innovation to the fact that he began his career coincident with the introduction of computers to the problems of science and engineering, "We had to develop new analytical solution for most problems. There were no precedents and we were always innovating. It was a very small community that developed the first computer applications in geophysics and exploration."
His first job after university was in the first computing group at the Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa. Two years later, Bolton was recruited by United Aircraft of Canada as their manager of engineering computing in Montreal. In 1968, he was invited by Roy Lindseth to join the fledging CDP Computer Data Processors Ltd., one of the first digital seismic processing companies in Canada as manager of software development.
From CDP explains Bolton, came many of the prominent individuals who started many of today's seismic processing companies, such as Digitech and Veritas. Six years later, he moved to CGG and then in 1979, he became one of the founders of Petrel Consultants Ltd., now Petrel Robertson.
"I thought that was going to semi-retire about 1982," recalls Bolton. That's when he sold off his drilling company and formed a consulting company, Bolton & Associates Consulting Ltd. For 15 years, he had an active consulting practice with clients in Canada and the United States. And as a director and consultant, he assisted ITA Inverse Theory and Applications Ltd. with starting their operations in Calgary.
Through a long relationship with Control Data Corporation, he focused on Russia, first consulting to the Russian users of geophysical systems then to the Russian government. He initiated then led a project that directed the initiation of the oil and gas regulatory systems in the province of Khanty Mansysk. Then in 1997, he set up CanBaikal Resources Inc., now a publicly traded oil company, to take advantage of the opportunities he recognized in the Russian oilpatch. While some might argue that such a move was daring, Bolton replies, "Russia has a lot of proven oil in reserves which may be acquired by public tender. You trade exploration risk and political risk is always over-estimated."
On setting up an oil company, Bolton sums up the experience, "The central problem to any business is raising capital. Raising money is hard work but it's just business that you have to keep separate from emotions and whims. You have to play by the rules of the financial community." But prior to raising capital, there are two elements essential for success that he emphasizes, "Family life must come first and having a partner who is capable of supporting your dreams is vital." Bolton's wife Gwen has contributed and enjoyed all aspects of building the business together.
The second element is the contributions from good friends who are capable of giving wise advice and support when it is needed, explains Bolton. "I have been lucky enough to have had excellent mentors at all stages of my life. Scientists, engineers and businessmen such as Stu Roscoe, Dick Cassidy, Red Coles and Daryl Birnie have provided me with friendship and advice without reservation. I now find that these debts may be repaid by providing advice and mentoring to a number of young people who are starting enterprises of their own."
John Boyd - A Mid-Life Career Switcher into Consulting
Today, John Boyd, 61, is the well-known president of his own Calgary-based consulting company, Boyd Petrosearch. While consulting is often a career choice for 50-plus geophysicists, Boyd made the switch into consulting when he was 39 years old. Between the time he had graduated from the University of Toronto in 1960 with his geophysics degree and the time he set up Boyd Petrosearch, he had built up quite a reputation for himself.
Between 1960 to 1966, he worked in exploration for Amoco. Then he joined Angus Petroleum Consultants, which went bankrupt two years later. He then worked one year for a contractor. Between 1969 to 1971, he worked for IBM's marketing department prior to joining Digitech. He worked in Australia and was based in London, England between 1972 to 1976 as Digitech's managing director for their UK operations.
With his desire to get back into interpretative geophysics, he set up his consulting company March 1977 - "I like running a business. I like the service side."
While some geophysicists may feel their age is their reason for lack of marketability, Boyd advises geophysicists to stay current technically, especially, if they are on the management track. "My advice is to stay current technically. Read journals. Go to conventions. Even though employers know that you have experience, you have to be up to date on geological and geophysical theory and thought."
Being a consultant is hard work, he says, "You work far more hours than you can bill for. If your objective is to get a solid day' work in, you find yourself putting in 9 to 10 hours."
An active volunteer in the community and for various technical organizations, Boyd estimates that he earns slightly more than if he were working on salary for an oil company. On a positive note, consulting gave Boyd a lot of flexibility, which enabled him to spend time with his family and take holidays when he wanted .
John Peirce - From Academia to Consulting
John Peirce, 53, is a Managing Partner for Geophysical Exploration and Development Corporation in Calgary. His career path has taken many turns, but has provided him with a wide variety of challenging and interesting work. John graduated in 1968, with a degree in Earth Sciences from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He spent the next four years working as a nuclear engineer for the U.S. Navy, "My navy experience taught me a lot about my personal limits and what I didn't want to do with my life."
In 1972, Peirce enrolled in the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute and M.I.T. Joint Program in Oceanography, specializing in marine geophysics. His thesis examined the northward motion of India and the onset of the Himalayan Orogeny by measuring paleomagnetic inclinations in drill cores acquired by the Deep-Sea Drilling Program on the Ninetyeast Ridge in the Indian Ocean.
After graduating with his Ph.D. in 1976, John moved from Cape Cod to Halifax where he taught at Dalhousie University as an Assistant Professor in the Geology Department. It was at Dalhousie where he met future business partner to come, Andreas Cordsen. His first connection with Calgary came on a plane flight from Halifax to Boston in 1976, when he happened to sit beside Maurice Strong, Chairman of the then brand new Petro-Canada. Although he was geared up for an academic career, when Petro-Canada offered John a position to set up their gravity and magnetics group in 1978, the opportunity was too good to refuse. He reflects that this move away from the ocean was his hardest career transition, "Calgary was a great place to live but I got here 70 million years too late - there's no ocean!"
In 1986, he was transferred into Petro-Canada's international department to manage a basin studies group. In 1988, he took a six-month leave of absence to be Co-Chief Scientist on Leg 121 of the Ocean Drilling Program for JOIDES - an international scientific consortium in which Canada is a member. Finally, he actually got to visit his thesis area in the Indian Ocean. With 25 other scientists from 16 countries 9 different languages, the experience was quite a management exercise. Later in 1988, Peirce received the CSEG Best Paper Award for his luncheon presentation on the scientific results of Leg 121.
Peirce and Cordsen, who had married their respective wives on the same day two weeks before they met, decided over one of their anniversary dinner celebrations that they should set up a geophysical consulting company together. In January 1991 , GEDCO was launched in Calgary. Prior to starting their company, John received generous advice from the Calgary geophysical community. Ralph Lundberg's comments were particularly to the point: "John, I've been consulting for 25 years. For most of that time, I've been two weeks away from unemployment. If you can't handle that stress, don't go into consulting!"
With consulting, John concedes that exposure is essential through networking, "You've need to learn to blow your own horn a bit because no one else will. You get used to going up to somebody and telling them who you are and what you do, but without being too intrusive. You also learn that volunteering your skills in the community is a wonderful way to meet people." In 1996, Peirce received the CSEG's Meritorious Service Award for his volunteer efforts on behalf of the CSEG.
His background as a generalist and research scientist has been instrumental to the company's success, too. "In the consulting business, you never know what you're going to be asked to do, or where. I've worked on every major plate and in a variety of basins around the world. My training as a research scientist allows me to ask relevant questions and listen to what the data is trying to tell me, instead of having some pre-conceived notions of what the data should be telling you."
Easton Wren - A Career Led by Serendipity
Sometimes, less senior geophysicists look up to Dr. Easton Wren in awe. But the truth contends the 60 year-old rabble-rouser, is that his career evolved from opportunity and unforeseen circumstances, "I didn't plan a career in geophysics. It kind of happened. I got into geophysics for all of the wrong reasons. I didn't want to work in a lab, so I didn't study chemistry. I wanted to work outdoors, so I studied geology. When work looking for gold and copper in East Africa ran out, I found work on seismic crews in Libya and then went back to school."
Wren graduated from Glasgow University, Scotland in 1961 with a geology degree. After graduating in 1968 with his Ph.D. in geophysics, he came to Canada and began working for Amoco. He had a great time working for Amoco, being groomed for upper management and even fantasizing the possibility of becoming president. Eight years later, Wren declined a transfer to New Orleans, "In hindsight, I retired from Big Oil. It was a shock to the system. In those days, you were supposed to stay with a company. If you didn't, that was the end of your career. But nowadays, there is life after Big Oil."
Wren went to work as Chief Geophysicist at PanCanadian for the next two years. Then in 1978, Wes Rabey approached Easton to help set up Petrel Consultants. At that time, he recalls how there were few companies with the international flair. On going international, he advises, "Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. It doesn't matter where you go, be very careful that you brief yourself. Learn the cultural norms and don't do things that are offensive. In the world, there is no norm. That's a huge secret!"
In 1988, Easton left to become the one-man show that he has so much loved, first teaching a semester at the University of Calgary. " I get to do what I like to do."
Still he cautions others that self-employment is not for everyone. "You have no financial security when you orchestrate yourself. You have very limited resources. You don't have groups of people who can help you, but it's worked quite well. I have had a lot of good strategic alliances with very good individuals to team specific skills."
In the last couple of years, Wren has aligned himself with a couple of younger geophysicists. He helps market their services, while they energize him with their creativity and technical skills. For someone that serendipity led into geophysics, Wren considers himself very lucky. He still gets to solve people's problems and keeps hands-on. Grey hairs have been essential for him to work in Asia, "If you don't have grey hair, they think you're not old enough to teach."
But despite his maturity, the truth still remains evasive. "I used to think that I knew a lot, but now I realize that I only know very little of a very big picture." explains Wren. "The older you get, the wiser you get, it means that you have more sense. There's no substitute for getting older, you are bound to get smarter."