Tina Antony has built a reputation around her integrity and creativity – and she’s using every bit of both to keep her career pointed in the right direction
“Part magician, and part contortionist.” That’s how Tina Antony, the vice-president and general counsel atSanjel, describes her role amid the downturn. It’s a role that’s turned out to be very different than the one was she was initially recruited for back in 2014. But it’s one that has helped Sanjel navigate the market turbulence with more success than it might otherwise have had. The strengths that she brought to the company – “adaptability, resourcefulness, and an ability to distill complexity into strategy,” she says – will ensure that it’s well-positioned when the market inevitably swings back.
Antony, a graduate of the University of Calgary’s LLB program with over 20 years’ experience in international corporate finance and governance, has steered Sanjel through multiple challenges across a variety of jurisdictions in 2015. In addition to the successful settlement of a highly-contentious cross-border lawsuit, Antony’s team reworked international joint ventures to ensure they remained efficient and viable and retooled commercial contracts with customers and suppliers in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the Caribbean, Luxembourg, and Iraq – all to align the company with the new economic reality. “I don’t think we can talk about success in its normal sense of the word in relation to this past year,” Antony says. “The most satisfying part for me, beyond all the actual work, is the privilege to work with a well-functioning positive team that brings its best each day.”
Success, it should be noted, is a concept in which Antony is well-versed. She was a founding member of the Calgary office of Heenan Blaikie LLP, where a positive reputation and record of success saw it grow into a full-service national firm. Prior to joining Sanjel, Antony was the first General Counsel (and, at the time, the only female executive) at Caracal Energy (formerly Griffiths Energy) where, under her guidance, Caracal’s achievements included an IPO, a listing on the main board of the London Stock Exchange and being the first independent E&P company to negotiate entry into an export pipeline in Chad and Cameroon. More importantly, perhaps, Antony’s time at Caracal also involved being the whistleblower on a foreign corruption scandal and managing the messaging around it. Her file included Caracal’s eventual takeover by Glencore, which, Antony notes, was a transaction “nominated for Oil Council Deal of the Year – and for which CEO Gary Guidry was awarded CEO of the Year.”
Though she has enjoyed many celebratory moments in her career, Antony is no stranger to adversity. Born in small-town Saskatchewan to European immigrants, Antony landed her first job at age 12, working for her entrepreneurial father who “fired me every Saturday, and re-hired me the following Thursday until I did the job right.” That experience comes in handy right now, given that the industry is undergoing what she calls a “large-scale and unforgiving adjustment” in which she acknowledges that “shortcomings, if any, will be eliminated.” But those character-building years help Antony remain optimistic about her own future, the future of the industry and the continued success of Sanjel. “The company was founded by Don MacDonald with a few trucks in the downturn in the mid 1980s. In 33 years, along with his son Darrin, Don grew Sanjel to the size and scale it is today.” With each previous downturn, she says, the company has emerged as a smarter and stronger organization every time. There’s no reason this downturn should be any different. “We will see a fundamental change in how this industry operates in the future, worldwide,” she says. “I am truly optimistic that our ingenuity will see us through.”
Q + A with our Chief Legal Officer of the Year: Tina Antony
What is the most important quality a senior executive can have?
Authenticity is the quality that first comes to mind, but due to recent studies and negative commentary about the leadership industry and those teaching authenticity, I believe I need to defend my choice. Authenticity, as a leadership trait, is under scrutiny and recent writers suggest that successful leaders are not authentic, but merely acting authentic. The suggestion is that we can pretend to be something else when the moment requires it and most successful leaders do, to get ahead. While that may be true in some cases, I do not believe that in most situations those we lead or work with as senior executives are buying it. Faking it can only go so far. Authenticity at work is being a principled professional, and as senior executives we need not expose personal shortcomings or doubts to achieve that. I can say from personal experience I have put aside exhaustion, a personal distraction, or doubts about my ability to focus and ultimately deliver what needed to be delivered – as I suspect most senior executives have. I will take the liberty of defining authenticity to mean being your genuine professional effective self, consistently. I suppose this means that senior leaders may be genuine jerks, provided that they are jerks all of the time. And as shown in some celebrated cases, this expression of the trait can mean phenomenal results. I chose authenticity as the most important quality, by my definition, because I believe it engenders trust.
What is the least important quality a senior executive can have?
I believe apportioning blame is a behavior that should be avoided. As senior executives we need to respect and be respected. Apportioning blame does not achieve either. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for determining the source of a problem or a perceived failure. Failure itself is not good, but what we do about it is the opportunity for change. If we have a plan and review the results or measure the outcome, we will find a new or better way to initiate change without blame.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is not related to work or my career. Every parent would understand this response. Also, getting caught in a Saskatchewan blizzard in the dark.
Which living person do you admire most?
If I only get to name one, I would say for me it is the young woman who survived an attempt on her life and accepted the Nobel peace prize in 2014, Malala Yousafzai (and her brave parents), who continues to promote the rights of girls to be educated. Such bravery and conviction is rare and a consequence of heinous circumstances we can barely comprehend. Closer to home, I would say I admire every woman in the last few years who challenged the status quo and embarked on activities not typically undertaken by women, and as a result have overcome glass ceilings, glass cliffs, and brick walls: like Roberta Bondar, Angela Merkel, and Tina Fey.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My extravagances change depending on what I can afford and depending on my circumstances – whether in university, raising kids, or an executive. Over the years it has been a movie and new music every week, a beautiful piece of art, or more recently, family cycling trips to Croatia and Italy. Today, in light of present circumstances, extravagance is buying a grande latte every day, with whole milk.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Other than being taller, I would like to be a better musician. I think about doing something about it but I don’t do anything. Recently I heard a wonderful story at the opening of the new Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal Universityin Calgary. A woman spoke about starting piano lessons after a 40-year hiatus. She was 91, so I figure I’ve still got time to play the electric guitar.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is that I grow in my career despite a few obstacles and biases, and at the same time I raised three wonderful, healthy kids, and managed to keep a sense of humor…most of the time.
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