Former Total Canada boss joins tech fund venture

August 13, 2013 Calgary Herald 0 Comments

August 13th, 2013

By Dan Healing

The man who set French energy giant Total S.A. on course for a massive buildup of oilsands production before being called to its Paris head office last year is back in Canada.

But this time around, Jean-Michel Gires is on what some might say is the other side of the street, just appointed a partner in Vancouver-based Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, a firm founded in 2001 that specializes in investing in clean technology startups.

Gires, president and chief executive of Total E&P Canada from 2009 until late last year, often declared the company would spend $20 billion to achieve 200,000 barrels per day of oilsands production by 2020 (a timeline it has since backed away from).

On Monday, the 55-year-old said returning to France led to him rethinking his career.

“After 25 years of working for Total, I wanted to get a significant change for the next period,” Gires said in an interview. “For a long time, I’ve wanted to do something with innovation – in the type of position I had, it was very difficult to have more than two or three per cent of my time on innovation – so, after giving it a few thoughts, yeah, I decided to change and dedicate myself fully to innovation.”

Gires said he will invest in and head up a new venture capital fund for Chrysalix which will attempt to raise between $150 million and $250 million to invest in early stage companies, targeting a 10-year horizon for payout.

In a news release, Wal van Lierop, president and chief executive of Chrysalix, said the company has worked with Gires since he was involved in 2008 in founding Total’s sustainable technology arm, a limited partner in one of Chrysalix’s funds.

“His industry experience and insight meshes perfectly with our focus on transformational innovations for industry that help reduce costs, energy intensity and environmental impact,” said van Lierop.

In his time with Total E&P Canada, Gires supported collaboration in the oilsands to improve its environmental record – Total was one of 12 founding members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance or COSIA, a group formed in February 2012 to advance key environmental challenges including tailings ponds, greenhouse gas emissions, land disturbance and water use.

Also on Gires’ watch, Total in 2010 helped found the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative and the Oil Sands Tailings Consortium.

Gires said the energy sector is very good at implementing incremental improvements in technology, but not as good at embracing breakthrough technology, in part because of the high capital costs involved.

“There is a need for accelerated innovation that is being felt by many of the players, not only in oil and gas but in the power sector, or mining, or chemicals, you see the same,” he said. “So many of the projects we are promoting are more complicated, more difficult resources we are after.”

He said he has potential investment targets in mind from his experience in Calgary for three and a half years, while adding he intends to do a lot of travelling to shop the world to find ideas worth funding.

Gires said he plans to reestablish a residence in downtown Calgary and will live here on a permanent basis.

He also plans to open a business office here for the fund.