Suncor CEO Little faces scrutiny after activist Elliott takes intention By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Suncor Vitality emblem is seen at their head workplace in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photograph


By Nia Williams and Svea Herbst-Bayliss

(Reuters) – Three months in the past Mark Little, the chief government of Canadian oil and fuel main Suncor Vitality (NYSE:), issued a mea culpa.

In January two vans had crashed at an oil sands mine in northern Alberta, killing one particular person. This raised the variety of on-the-job fatalities at Suncor since 2014 to 12, by far the worst security report amongst its Canadian friends.

“I personal this,” Little instructed an earnings name in February. Now these phrases are coming again to hang-out him.

The accident in January was the newest in a string of operational incidents at Suncor websites, and got here on prime of investor dissatisfaction with a serious dividend minimize in 2020.

As Suncor shares lagged its friends, U.S. funding agency Elliott Administration noticed a possibility and constructed a 3.4% stake. Final month the hedge fund mentioned it wish to see a handful of recent administrators be a part of the corporate’s board, in addition to administration and strategic critiques.

Elliott, which is understood for pushing firms to enhance operations, is predicted to satisfy privately with Suncor subsequent week, sources mentioned.

Elliott’s transfer is bringing scrutiny over Little’s efficiency as CEO, a job he took in 2019 after serving as chief working officer since December 2017.

“My feeling is Bay Road isn’t going to present (Suncor) the good thing about the doubt as a result of it’s been just a few years of missteps,” mentioned Laura Lau, chief funding officer at Brompton Group, a Suncor shareholder.

“Will they (shareholders) give Mark Little time? I don’t know. There are extra questions on whether or not he’s the suitable man going ahead,” Lau mentioned.

In its letter to Suncor, Elliott didn’t discuss with Little by identify however mentioned the board have to be chargeable for having a administration workforce in place that may ship excellence in working and security efficiency.

Suncor, which reviews quarterly earnings on Monday, didn’t reply to a request for remark.


Suncor is North America’s most worthwhile refining and advertising firm on a per barrel foundation and one in every of Canada’s main gas retailers. However it has repeatedly missed manufacturing steerage and failed to satisfy a 2018 promise to ship as much as C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) of free funds move enchancment by the top of 2023, as a substitute pushing that concentrate on out to 2025.

Little, 57, rose by way of the ranks after becoming a member of Suncor in 2008 and beforehand labored for Imperial Oil (NYSE:) and its majority proprietor Exxon Mobil (NYSE:). Some Canadian vitality business executives mentioned Suncor’s current operational points stem from a push to automate operations as a lot as potential, which makes the corporate much less nimble when issues go unsuitable.

“He (Little) is well-liked, he’s a vibrant, good man… however he’s all about procedures,” mentioned one former Suncor worker who labored with Little.

The supply declined to be named as a result of he nonetheless consults within the business.

Elliott, which invests $51.5 billion in belongings, has pushed to take away prime executives at firms together with Twitter (NYSE:) , Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:) and eBay (NASDAQ:). It launched 17 campaigns in 2021, and up to now 12 months gained 11 board seats and has a popularity for steering technique from contained in the boardroom.

Elliott declined to remark for this story.

Suncor’s inventory worth underperformance could be traced again to the early days of the pandemic when, confronted with collapsing crude costs, it halved its dividend at the same time as rival Canadian Pure (NYSE:) Sources Ltd held payout regular.

The lagging share worth allowed Canadian Pure to overhaul Suncor as Canada’s most precious vitality firm in 2020.

Then got here a string of mishaps at Suncor’s oil sands and refining operations, together with the revelation final July {that a} crucial slope at its new Fort Hills mine, which began working in 2018, was unstable and required fixing earlier than manufacturing may very well be totally ramped up.

Regardless of the issues, Little earned 127% of his 2021 annual bonus alternative after incomes 74% of his bonus alternative for 2020, firm paperwork present. Elliott mentioned in a public presentation that CEO compensation ranges over the previous few years recommend the board is “not sufficiently holding administration accountable for present efficiency.”

“When you take a look at investor suggestions during the last two years there’s been some frustration on the operations facet, and these come right down to a frustration with administration,” mentioned Matt Murphy, an analyst with Tudor Pickering Holt in Calgary.

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