From the bush to the boardroom

JP Gladu in camouflage gear standing in front of a camouflage buggie
It’s a sound so visceral that it will stop you in your tracks as you walk through the woods on a cool, crisp fall day—the sound of a female moose looking for a “dance partner."

Unless you’ve spent a lot of time in the bush like Suncor board director, Jean Paul (JP) Gladu, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard this beastly sound. But if you ask JP nicely, he’ll give you one of his killer moose calls, which he uses when harvesting moose with his teenage daughter. 

JP, a member of the Sand Point First Nation of Lake Nipigon, grew up trapping and harvesting animals, with his parents, both Anishinaabe (uh-NISH-ih-NAY-bay) from Thunder Bay, Ont. One of his favourite dishes made from the yields of his very own snare line was rabbit brain soup made by his grandmother, a residential school survivor.  

While JP grew up off-reserve, because of his family’s connection to the land and culture, he feels connected to his community.

“Being connected to the natural environment rounds you as a human being,” explains JP. “If we were more connected to our natural environment, I think we’d have stronger, more robust conversations around the things we do as a country.”

From rabbit soup to Suncor

JP’s connection with the land led him to forestry where he became a forestry technician and landed his first job with Natural Resources Canada working across Ontario with numerous First Nation communities. This is where he says he found his purpose in life and became committed to the betterment of Indigenous people.

Eventually, JP went back to the classroom earning his bachelor of science in forestry from Northern Arizona University, an MBA from Queen’s and an Institute of Corporate Directors, Director designation. Swapping the land for the boardroom didn’t mean he forgot his commitment to Indigenous peoples. In fact, he uses his position as a business leader to ensure Indigenous views and perspectives are included in business discussions. 

After a rewarding and successful business career, which includes serving on the board of Ontario Power Generation, nearly eight years as the president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and currently the president of Alaska to Alberta Railway, JP discovered he wasn’t immune to the effects COVID was having on the economy.

“I went from having an amazing job, living in a condo in downtown Toronto, to becoming unemployed, with no fixed address with one suitcase to my name, thanks to COVID, and sleeping on my ex-wife’s couch,” says JP, now able to laugh about his situation. “But I believe that everything happens for a reason. Suncor learned through an executive search firm that I was available, which led to me going through a process that resulted in me joining the board.”

In addition to over 25 years of experience working with environmental non-government organizations, industry and governments across Canada, JP sees his appointment to Suncor’s board as an opportunity for corporations and Indigenous people to see the value in contributing to the Canadian economy. 

“Societal infrastructure—being on boards, having our lawyers and teachers—is just as important as our physical infrastructure because it’s how [Indigenous people] influence decisions,” says JP.

JP’s story, including his moose calls, can be heard on Canadian Heavy Oil Association’s Over a Barrel podcast, where he was a guest.