Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Alumni Connections.
From ‘back-row boy’ to industry leader
Paul Colborne (LLB’86) went from rowdy law student to a force to be reckoned with in the energy industry
It was a strong interest in a variety of areas of corporate law, including securities, tax law, and oil and gas law, that has been a driver of Colborne’s trajectory of success. After practicing law for nine years at a major Calgary law firm and two large oil and gas companies, Colborne switched gears to start Startech Energy, a junior oil and gas company. He is now President and Chief Executive Officer of Surge Energy Inc., an intermediate-sized oil and gas company focused in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin worth more than $2 billion.
“Surge is an aggressive participant in the industry with an operating strategy of acquiring elite, large original oil in place (OOIP) reservoirs, and then exploiting them through infill and step-out development drilling, waterflood activities, modern frac technology applications, and optimizations,” says Colborne. “Until the recent drop in world crude oil prices, Surge was one of the top performing public oil and gas companies in Canada”.
Colborne has been involved in several junior oil and gas companies over the past two decades, growing each to be leaders in the industry. After eight years as a partner on the management team of Startech, the company was sold to ARC Energy Trust for over $500 million. He then joined a new team and started and grew Crescent Point Energy, which is producing more than 130,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) and is an now industry-leader in the growth and dividend-paying model. He then started StarPoint Energy Trust, which after two years was over 35,000 boepd and was sold to Canetic Energy Trust for $5.4 billion.
At this point, it was time to take a break. “I took about six years off, sitting on as many as 11 Boards of Directors, and pursuing my own personal investments,” says Colborne. “About 17 months ago, I accepted the position at Surge, which we have successfully grown from 8,300 to more than 20,000 boepd. Surge is now one of the best positioned light oil growth and dividend-paying companies in Canada.”
Early in his studies, Colborne decided to focus on a future corporate law practice, which for lawyers practicing in Calgary, often includes securities, mergers and acquisitions, tax, banking, and corporate commercial law.
“The Canadian oil and gas industry is a very capital-intensive business, with companies needing both equity and debt capital to grow,” says Colborne. “Consequently, with this focus in my legal studies at the University of Calgary, after nine years of practicing in these areas of corporate law, it made for a much smoother transition into the business sector…so long as I was always supported by solid technical people in engineering, geology and geophysics!”
Colborne knew that, while he enjoyed the practice of law, he always looked forward to the challenge of entering the business side of the oil and gas industry, and a chance to successfully grow a company. As he points out, “I always thought it would be an exciting opportunity for me career-wise, and I also knew (and convinced my wife!) if I fell on my face, I could go back and practice law, which I always enjoyed.”
It wasn’t all business for Colborne during law school, having made a great group of friends, calling themselves “The Back Row Boys.”
“We did the typical level of studying/partying/socials and other activities that you would expect of rowdy back-row law students. A number of those guys are still my good friends today.”
Colborne's group of friends, and the quality legal education he received is sure to be credited to his success over the years. “The way law school is organized at the University of Calgary, and the course selections offered, really helps students focus their studies towards their future areas of practice,” he says. “In particular, the practicum I was able to do in my last semester really helped me to hit the ground running in corporate law where I articled (and was then kept on) at a large law firm in Calgary.”
And run he did.