Nicole Bourque-Bouchier knows how to do business in the oil sands and what’s more, she knows how to make that business succeed.
Building a successful business
As CEO of Bouchier-Carillion Group (BCG), one of Alberta’s largest Aboriginal-owned companies, Bourque-Bouchier has been a part of the industry’s evolution from a time when the only two oil sands mines and in situ operations were nothing more than pilot projects.
The company’s roots date back to 1998 when president, David Bouchier, Bourque-Bouchier’s husband, began offering oil field services with one piece of equipment: a second-hand dozer.
By 2005, the company invested in its first office space, and in 2009, hired its 100th team member.
“We were the little company that could,” reminisces Bourque-Bouchier. “Our success is built on the foundation of good people. It may have started out with just me and David as the owners and operators, but today we’re lucky to be surrounded by so many team members that believe in our vision.”
It’s that vision for success that has the business world paying attention.
From humble beginnings to Indspire award winner
Recently Bourque-Bouchier was named the 2018 Indspire Award recipient for business and commerce. She was also named one of KPMG’s and Scotiabank’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada in 2015, recognized by Alberta Venture magazine as one of Alberta’s 50 most influential people, and received the 2015 Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Award. In 2016, Bourque-Bouchier was granted the Allard Chair in Business from MacEwan University.
She has come a long way since beginning her career in the oil sands industry.
Originally from the Northwest Territories, Bourque-Bouchier’s family was lured to Fort McMurray during the oil sands boom of the 1980s. The oldest of four girls, she grew up on the trap line and learned Aboriginal customs and traditions, and the culture of the Fort Chipewyan’s Mikisew Cree First Nation.
When she joined the former-Bouchier Contracting in 2002 (UK-based Carillion Group acquired a 49 per cent stake in Bouchier in 2012), she had never worked for the supply sector. Her first position was in Syncrude’s public relations department. After that she started her own consulting firm, and later became True North Energy’s manager of Aboriginal affairs. She also worked in stakeholder relations at Shell.
“I didn’t know anything about the supply side of the industry. I didn’t even know what a dozer or excavator was,” she said. “But although I didn’t know how to operate a piece of equipment, it didn’t mean I couldn’t manage the equipment business.
“As time wore on I slowly took over more and more responsibility. I started working on the books, land, human resources, payroll and safety. And then, slowly, I started estimating the bidding and doing pre-qualification packages — eventually running the office.”
Staying competitive through tough times
When it comes to being an Aboriginal business owner in the oil sands, her only secrets to success are hard work and remaining competitive.
“Always be a good neighbour. Industry is our neighbour and you have to spend the time and energy getting to know your neighbours on all levels,” she said. “Our clients give us the opportunity to do what we do — employ people of Aboriginal descent and give back to the communities in which we live and work.
“It’s important to continue to provide a competitive, quality, and safe service,” she adds. “I think our clients understand that overall we care because we’re a local company.”
Having weathered two major economic crashes — first in 2008 and again in 2014 — Bourque-Bouchier has a unique perspective on what direction the future of the oil sands industry will take.
Despite BCG’s margins being one-third of the size compared to when the company first started, she sees a “light at the end of the tunnel” with growth remaining slow but steady.
“Competition is at an all-time high because there isn’t as much work to go around, so contractors have to learn to do more for less. However, the work is there. I don’t think we will get back to where we were a few years ago, but in order to grow, it has to make sense.
“Today is about reinventing yourself in a new economy. Survival of the fittest.”
Looking forward, and with confidence, she sees BCG becoming a leader in integrated site-support services, as well as engineering, procurement, and construction.
Empowering Aboriginal women
And while BCG is her business, her passion is empowering women — particularly Aboriginal women. She was awarded the Esquao Award for business from the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, recognized in the Enbridge Famous 5 Women Speaker Series, and was nominated by Girls Inc. as a Woman of Inspiration.
“You have it within yourself to be successful and not to doubt yourself. Just because you’re in a predominantly male world — in terms of what I do — that doesn’t mean you don’t have the answers. You’re a leader.”
When Bourque-Bouchier isn’t running BCG or mentoring women, she can be found doing the thing that matters the most to her — spending time with her husband and five children, her friends and teammates at BCG, and her community.
She is the current president of the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association, sits on Keyano College’s Board of Governors, and can often be seen hauling around her sons’ hockey equipment.