Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Milestone gift from alumnus-led exploration company fuels the courage to innovate
Wayne Foo’s generosity fosters freedom, discovery and commercialization in science
Surely one of the most frequently uttered words at boardroom tables and in research labs around the world these days, “innovation” has become the driving force behind global competitiveness in everything from management process to the commercialization of new technologies.
Wayne Foo, BSc’77, is the founding CEO and now chairman of the Board of Directors for Parex Resources Inc. His succinct definition of innovation captures the fresh perspective that is spurring a successful, diversified new economy, here in Calgary and around the world.
“Innovation means being courageous enough to do things that others aren’t doing,” he says. “It’s not about competing — it’s about taking risks, failing early and pushing through in doing what you do uniquely well.”
In celebration of the crude-oil exploration company’s 10-year anniversary, Foo and Parex together have made a $3.24-million gift to the Faculty of Science to fuel that brand of courage.
- Photo above, from left: Dr. George Shimizu, UCalgary President Ed McCauley, Dr. Joel Reardon, Dr. Marc Strous, Parex Resources chairman Wayne Foo, Dr. Peter Facchini, Dr. Kristina Rinker, and Faculty of Science Dean Lesley Rigg. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
“As a company, we wanted to make a milestone gift that would reflect the story of Parex,” says Foo, who fondly recalls the University of Calgary professors who challenged and encouraged him when he was an undergraduate student. “I was ready to drop out part way through my first year, but was strongly encouraged to find my way and work hard for what I was passionate about.” Foo and his team at Parex have infused the same resilient, entrepreneurial spirit in their Calgary-based headquarters and, likewise, at the company’s South American exploration and drilling operation.
“This gift embodies what we value at Parex,” says Foo. “It is intended to foster leaders and researchers who are incubating excellent, innovative ideas. We want to remove barriers for them — barriers of time, finances and teaching loads — to give them the freedom to push toward commercialization in a new economy.”
The gift establishes five Parex Resources Innovation Fellowships, as well as one Parex Resources Visiting Innovation Fellowship. These positions will empower researchers to lead and conduct research and community partnerships that fuel startups and technology advancement based on new discoveries, insights and innovation.
“This gift enables our scholars in the Faculty of Science to conduct research and forge community partnerships that will lead to technology advancement and start-ups,” says President Ed McCauley. “The successes arising from the Parex Innovation Fellows will fuel an active innovation and discovery ecosystem in Alberta, Canada and beyond.”
Grounded in UCalgary’s research-intensive environment, the fellowships will foster pioneering processes, fresh insights and deepened collaborations with the community for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students. The fellows will have the opportunity to shift economies and inform policies with societal impacts in such areas as data science and analytics, cybersecurity, energy, precision medicine, FinTech, digital oilfield, and intelligent transportation systems, to name a few.
“The gift of this size and calibre offers unprecedented opportunities,” says Dr. Lesley Rigg, dean of the Faculty of Science. “By working together, our faculty researchers and collaborators at the university are ready to help Calgary’s economy pivot through innovation-based science. Each of the fellows has demonstrated research excellence and a history of innovation, technology transfer or interdisciplinary research, and we are excited to see what they will achieve."
For Foo, it’s important to not only celebrate the success of his own company but, through this gift, to also mark the tremendous success of resource development by Alberta businesses over the decades. “Particularly in these difficult times, it’s incumbent on organizations to make an effort, to pay it forward,” he says.
Foo sees the fellowships as a way of preparing and inspiring the next generation. “We need to nurture and free up time for these vibrant people to inspire the 18-year-olds who come into their office saying, ‘I’m thinking of quitting,’ like I once did,” he says. “These fellowships give them an opportunity to inspire students and draw them into their work.”
That, he adds, “is how we’ll grow and succeed.”
The gift from Parex Resources Inc. and Wayne Foo is part of the University of Calgary’s ongoing fundraising campaign, Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High, the university’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history. Funds raised through the campaign will support student experiences, research outcomes and community connections. The campaign is currently 97 per cent toward its overall goal of $1.3 billion.