Having spent much of the first two decades of his career working in oil sands mines, Peter Zebedee still owns a pair of steel-toed boots and coveralls with bitumen stains on them.

That well-worn gear underscores his professional roots in oil sands, where he returned earlier this year to take on the role as Suncor’s Executive Vice President, Mining and Upgrading.

“Working for a Canadian energy company was very important to me, both personally and professionally,” says Peter, who started out his career as a geotechnical engineer with Syncrude. “This is a great industry because the oil sands are a people-driven business, and you can share in those collective successes every time you walk through the plant gates.”

Working at different energy companies provided Peter with a fresh set of eyes. And they are squarely focused on operational excellence.

“Stepping away brings a different perspective, as does working for a different organization,” Peter says. “I have some foundational priorities that start with safety. Given our performance, we know we need to do better. Second, we need to work together as one team. And third, we need to meet commitments to all of our stakeholders, which includes employees, as well as external communities.”

The fatality of a contractor on July 7 has strengthened Peter’s resolve to push ahead with changes recommended following a comprehensive safety assessment of Suncor’s operations.

“I never expected to lead an organization through a workplace death. I’m disappointed and devastated and I know I’m not alone in that,” he says. “While we find ourselves in a difficult place, I’m committed to seeing our safety improvement work through. And I know many other people in this organization share that commitment. That’s crucial because there’s only one way for us to improve our safety performance, and that’s together.”

Key business objectives underpin Peter’s priorities, including adopting common ways of working. “Our operations should look and feel the same with the same standards. This will help us achieve our objectives around safety, production, costs and developing competitive and responsible bitumen supply options,” Peter says. “Our stakeholders, investors, partners and communities where we operate count on us to be professional operators. And we will measure that by delivering safe, reliable and cost-competitive production, day in and day out.”

Results matter but how the organization achieves them is also important for Peter.

“We need to look out for one other,” he says. “Whether you operate heavy equipment in the mine, perform maintenance in the fixed plant or work in an office tower in a functional organization, we are all one team and we need everybody working together to succeed.”

Having started his career in 1997, a time when the industry faced an uncertain future due to low crude prices, Peter is focused on shaping Suncor to meet the challenges ahead.

“We need to look beyond the price cycles and build a sustainable business robust enough to withstand the challenges that are coming towards us,” he says. “What should give us some confidence is our history demonstrates we can do that, whether it’s been market fluctuations, wildfires, floods or pandemics. That’s why I’m happy to be back and ready to contribute to building that successful business. I’ve already seen we have what it takes.”