Climbing the ladder to success in a new career

How a Haskayne MBA program sharpened a former journalist’s understanding of the global energy industry


Doug Ferguson

Even as she stepped into her new job high in the leadership of one of Canada’s top oil and natural gas companies, Rhona DelFrari, GEEMBA’15, says she never could have predicted the turns her career has taken.

“I’ve never in my career been able to think much more than a year ahead, but it keeps things more exciting that way,” says DelFrari, a former TV journalist who was recently named vice-president, communications and reputation management at Cenovus Energy. “I work hard and I’m always open to try anything new, so things generally work out.”

She credits her promotion in part to her decision, with the support of her company, to take the Global Energy Executive MBA (GEEMBA) program at the Haskayne School of Business. It allows working professionals to not only upgrade their skills through courses that are delivered in intensive face-to-face modules and online learning but also take part in trips to energy hot spots around the world.

“It really opens your eyes to all aspects of the global energy industry beyond your day-to-day job,” says DelFrari. “Students from around the world are coming to this program.”

After earning an honours degree in journalism and mass communications from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1994, DelFrari spent 15 years as a broadcast journalist at private and public TV stations in five provinces, including senior management roles.

But as declining ad revenues and deepening cutbacks hit newsrooms across Canada, she decided to go into communications in 2008 as a media relations advisor with Encana Corp. She finds the oil industry to be a worthy challenge. “Every single person, every single day, is touched multiple times by it, so it’s a really exciting industry to work in,” she says. “People don’t often think of the oil industry as one that’s being innovative, but there’s so much innovation in it. There have been huge changes over the years and there will continue to be even greater changes, especially now when it comes to the focus on greenhouse gas emissions.”

As she rose up the corporate ladder, DelFrari realized she needed to gain a deeper understanding of the industry. She found the finance and strategy classes provided by the Global Energy Executive MBA program to be particularly valuable, especially when she took a leadership role on the strategy team at Cenovus.

“I might not be the one personally doing the financial analytics, but because I have had the background and learned the basics as part of the MBA, I am able to take the work that my colleagues are doing with our financial models and be able to examine the results, ask the right questions and help guide the decisions that are being made,” she says.

DelFrari also undertook real-life case studies that went beyond the oil industry. Assignments covered everything from commodities trading and renewable energy to environmental and stakeholder issues, with many requiring people to study actual situations involving their employers.

The program also involved five trips to energy hubs around the world including Beijing and Shanghai in China, Doha in Qatar, London in the UK, and Houston in the United States. During their tours, GEEMBA students visited energy facilities and met with senior energy company and government officials.

The growing importance of environmental issues was brought home during the visit to Beijing, she says. “We were stuck on the highway because it had closed due to smog,” she says, adding the long-term goal of Cenovus is to encourage solutions that allow the continued production and use of oil for energy while creating zero carbon emissions.

DelFrari found her graduate education at Haskayne to be both relevant and timely. “It’s essential for me to understand what the broader context is for the energy industry, and what some of the challenges are that are coming in the future,” she says.

“We have to try to be one step ahead of what’s about to impact our business. The materials that I learned in the Global Energy Executive MBA program had a huge influence on my thinking.”

Learn more about the GEEMBA program

Rhona DelFrari, GEEMBA’15

Rhona DelFrari, GEEMBA’15

Photo by Kelly Hofer