People

The journey to Union Gas

Noted Canadian rapper Drake said this of journeys: “Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.”

All individuals at Union Gas can trace their interesting journey to the company, but we asked three people who had especially long journeys to tell their stories. We want their words to give you a taste of who works at Union Gas, and what the destination looks like.

Meghna: from Dubai to Malawi to Tanzania to India to Canada

Meghna standing in front of mountains

I may identify myself as an Indian, however, my essence is truly a mélange of cultures and traditions from all the unique countries I have had the chance to live in; a third culture kid.

After being born in India, my family and I were continuously traversing from one country to another as a result of my father’s profession. As a toddler in Dubai, most of my recollections are based on photographs and stories that have been shared with me over the years.

At five, my parents and I embarked on a life-changing journey and relocated to Malawi, also known as the “Warm Heart of Africa.” This change was a lot more evident for my parents especially when moving to a developing nation after having lived amongst the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan city such as Dubai. Nonetheless, it was one of the best decisions they had made.

Suddenly, I was exposed to a completely different lifestyle, one in which I could explore nature and appreciate lakes and mountains, learn to live in harmony amongst a plethora of wildlife and insects, and also experience life in a small city where most people knew each other, especially the expatriate community. These were aspects that were unimaginable in Dubai as well as cities in India.

When I was eight, we took a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and I remember it being an absolute nightmare, but little did I know I would be spending my ninth birthday in a new home, surrounded by new friends from a new school, in that same city.

– Meghna

As it turned out, I soon referred to Tanzania as my home, a country I had deeply grown fond of and had given me experiences of a lifetime. From summiting Mount Meru at 4,300 metres and watching the sun rise behind Mount Kilimanjaro, to thrilling underwater interactions during my deep-sea diving lessons.  

I moved on to trace my roots back to India where I completed my IB Diploma at an international boarding school in the Southern hill station of Kodaikanal, once again embracing the pristine surrounding in which my school was the most happening place in the town, and where I spent three memorable years building lifelong friendships.   

Finally, in the fall of 2013 I made my way to Canada to pursue my undergrad at the University of Toronto, double majoring in Geoscience and Environmental Studies. Soon after graduation, I became part of the Union Gas family as the DSM Strategy Coordinator in the Toronto office. I feel privileged to have gotten my first job here and the last six months have been an outstanding learning experience, one where I am hopeful and excited to take on new responsibilities and challenges within the company and the energy industry. This country and its people have been a delight in every way and I look forward to making my home here.
 

Roxana: from Romania to Canada

roxana standing with her arms raised by the water

I was born and raised in a beautiful Eastern European country that is best known for two things: gymnastics and Dracula.

Romania was my home for my formative years, up until the age of 14. I remember when I was young, my parents would always take my brother and me on road trips all across the country, and all across Europe.

By the age of 12, I had already toured through most of Romania (including Dracula’s famous castle, of course) and through countries like Hungary, Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, and others. My parents’ adventurous spirit is what led them to want to move to Canada; well that, coupled with the fact that they wanted their kids to have more opportunities in one of the most prosperous countries in the world.

We moved to Canada in June 2002, and I started Grade 9 just three months later in our new city: Windsor, Ont. The first couple of years in our new home were a challenge, but I learned to be resilient and to keep pushing forward despite life’s obstacles.

I adjusted to a new city, new school, and new friends all at once, and by the time I started university, I had already obtained my Canadian citizenship and was fully immersed in my new life.

– Roxana

After graduating from University of Windsor at the height of the 2008 recession, I decided to continue my studies and went to Humber College for my post-graduate degree in Marketing Management.

In late 2015, I was working for the provincial government in Toronto when a job opportunity came up at the Union Gas office in Toronto. The hiring process was lengthy, so I didn’t start my position until the spring of 2016. For the past two years, I have been working for the Commercial/Industrial marketing team in the Demand Side Management (DSM) group.

The learning curve has been steep in the DSM world, but I thoroughly enjoy all challenges that come my way and believe that every obstacle is a learning opportunity. I look forward to a long career in the energy sector, and am excited to see how our new company takes shape in the next year.

 

Dianne: from India to Bahrain to Canada

Dianne standing next to statues posing

My life’s journey has taken me to different countries across the world – India, Bahrain (Middle East) and Canada.

I’ve enjoyed experiencing diversity first hand, having lived and worked in these countries, getting to know different cultures, tasting a variety of cuisines, and enjoying different climates; yes, even the Canadian winters!

I was born in Goa, India, and my parents left for the main city of Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) when I was little.  My entire education, kindergarten through to university, was in Mumbai where I lived and studied till I was 22. Although I loved Mumbai, I would long for the summer holidays as we would go back for a few weeks to Goa, which to me was paradise! You see, Goa has the most beautiful white sandy beaches, bright blue skies (except during the monsoons), red earth and plenty of greenery with coconut palm trees everywhere.  Since the Portuguese ruled and governed Goa for four centuries many churches and houses still bear a striking element of the Portuguese style of architecture.

Mumbai on the other hand is a busy, pulsating hub. If you’re new to Mumbai get ready for an assault on your senses. It’s fast-paced, overcrowded , heavy traffic with cars, rickshaws, taxis and buses honking nonstop, construction everywhere, the aroma of spicy Indian cuisine in the air, people sporting extremely bright colourful clothing (saris and salwar khameez mostly) and the climate is very hot and humid! Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment centre of India. Bombay is a melting pot of different faiths – Hindus being the majority, followed by Muslims, Catholics, and minorities of Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis. Besides getting a good education, and building many friendships that I cherish till today, the one thing I developed was a high level of respect for other faiths and the art of getting along no matter the differences.

My journey then took me to the Kingdom of Bahrain, also referred to the “Pearl of the Gulf,” a small, beautiful island, where I enjoyed 14 unforgettable years. I got my first real work experience at an ad agency while simultaneously continuing my studies – majoring in International Marketing. I have a special love for Bahrain as I married my husband (who is from Mumbai) and had both my boys there – Dwain and Darren.  We had no financial stress, as believe it or, we didn’t pay any taxes. There was no PST, GST, HST or income tax, so what you saw on your pay slip is what you took home. It was a pleasure working and living among the Bahrainis. They are a very welcoming people and easy to get along with.

I immigrated to Toronto in 1995 and blended into yet another melting pot pretty easily.

– Dianne

We arrived at the beginning of summer, so all was well till winter came around. It was a shock. The first few years were an uphill battle as jobs were scarce and we had no Canadian experience. I started as a telemarketer at Bell Canada, then worked for Bell Mobility before landing a marketing specialist job at Union Gas where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working for the past 11 years. I enjoy sports and have become a true-blue Leafs fans, and also support the other Toronto teams: Raptors, TFC, Argos, and the Blue Jays.

My family of four became proud Canadians in 1996 and we are thriving here. We have no regrets whatsoever on choosing Canada as our final destination. Canada is a truly beautiful country with some of the most picturesque places in the world.  I’m grateful we have had to opportunity to travel and enjoy the different landscapes.

Canada has a rich history and heritage and being a history buff I have absorbed much of it over the past 23 years. My biggest regret was not devoting time to understanding Canada’s history from an Indigenous Peoples’ perspective. Over the next few years I am committed to gaining an understanding of the vast diversity of the Indigenous People and the cultural richness and contributions Indigenous Peoples have and continue to make to Canadian society and economy.

Holiday Variety show host smiling with his arms spread out

Holiday variety show by executives ‘A Gift to Employees’

There’s never a dull moment when working for Public Affairs. In December 2017, dreams of cozy holiday sweaters were replaced by frantic searches for floor-length sequin gowns and the Michigan Fight Song.

It all started in the fall, when an executive leader floated the idea of a holiday variety show for employees. The catch was the executive would be the performers. They’d be in costumes, they’d sing, and the president of the company, Steve Baker, would be accompanying on piano — even though he hadn’t played for a number of years.

“It was a brave, unique idea — especially in the corporate world — to have the leadership of an energy company put themselves out there as performers to entertain employees at a holiday party,” said Barb Petek, who leads the storytelling team in Public Affairs and helped write material for the show.

The variety show journey began in October when Tanya Mushynski, vice-president of Canada Gas and Union Gas Law, along with Mike Shannon, vice-president of Distribution Operations, were made the executive sponsors of the annual holiday luncheon.

Two hosts of the holiday party standing next to each other

During the planning stages, Tanya told Public Affairs that she “wanted to do something different. Something employees could get excited about.”

It took Tanya a few weeks of chatting with her fellow leaders, but the Union Gas Leadership (UGL) group ultimately agreed to participate in what was shaping up to be a full-fledged 1970s inspired Holiday Variety Show.

“The ‘show’ grew and grew in scope, but all of it was exciting and offered us an amazing challenge,” said digital storyteller Alex Poole, who was conscripted to act as stage manager.

Each executive was given the option to team up with a partner or showcase a talent solo. In the end, four acts were decided upon: baton twirling, juggling, a comedian, and a sing-a-long rendition of Frosty the Snowman.

Tanya and Mike would play the role of the gameshow hosts, and the entire executive team (10 people) would participate in the grand finale song – The 12 Months of 2017 to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

A dedicated Public Affairs planning committee was determined to bring Tanya’s 70s Variety Show vision to life. Alex filled the role of stage manager with Megan Robinson leading the event planners in logistics. Other team members stepped up as backstage hands, and outside technical support was sourced for lighting and sound. The team designed the set, wrote the script, sourced costumes, furniture, and even had a six-foot-tall light up sign custom made by the team’s graphic designer Martha Kagan.

Group of people singing together as wekk as a keyboardist playing music

The day before the big event the stage was pretty much set. The Public Affairs team spent most of the day in Chatham, Ont., (where Union Gas’ head office is located) decorating the event space and setting the 52 tables that would seat nearly 1,000 guests.

All seemed well, but then fate decided to step in. By late afternoon a foot of snow had fallen. Nearly all ULG members had been in Toronto earlier that week and were forced to drive from London after flights were either delayed or cancelled.

The only dress rehearsal, scheduled for that evening, was pushed back. By 8 p.m. almost all of the executive had made it to the rehearsal. Some last-minute tweaks were made to the script and a weary team said their good nights.

The next day, employees filed into the hall for the company’s annual holiday luncheon. They did not know about the show they were about to experience.

That day, as lunch finished and people began to make their way back to their seats, Tanya and Mike were waiting anxiously backstage. Tanya was dressed in a floor-length sequin gown, and Mike was in a suit and top hat, complete with a red feather boa. The lights dimmed and the hosts were greeted with raucous applause.

Throughout the show employees could be seen laughing, smiling, and whistling as they watched their leaders perform in costume.  

As the final number concluded, the audience leapt to their feet. The performance had achieved a standing ovation.

“I definitely think we achieved what we were hoping to,” explained Tanya.

“Though everyone on the ULG and throughout Union Gas works extremely hard they are all willing to have fun. This show was a gift to the employees for being so awesome, to send them off to enjoy their holidays with a smile on their faces,” she added.

The Social Media Shake-Up Rising Star: Leanne McNaughton

Leanne smiling and posing with her rising stars award

When you talk to Leanne McNaughton it doesn’t take long to understand how she was named a 2017 Social Media Rising Star by PR News.

Whether she’s talking about the latest social media trends or branding strategies, the Union Gas graphics and digital communications specialist shows an enthusiasm for innovation and strategy that is infectious.

“Social media is a new way to communicate with our customers and stakeholders that is forever changing. There are always a few risks to manage and overcome along the way, but I love the challenge,” said Leanne, who is based in Chatham at head office.

The PR News award recognizes industry thought leaders in the use of social media who are helping to shape the social strategy at their organizations.

While working to shape the social media culture at Union Gas, Leanne draws upon her experience in the graphics and digital communication worlds. She began her career by designing product and packaging in the sports retail industry. Then she focused on brand development at Green Earth and print production at a weekly newspaper. Later, Leanne worked on social media and digital communications in the marketing department at Fanshawe College.

Leanne stepped into her new role at Union Gas more than two years ago, into a dream job that allows her to combine her two skills into one role.

“The opportunity for growth at Union Gas intrigued me, and I saw this not only as an exciting position but as a challenge to enhance the brand’s reputation through visuals and digital storytelling,”

– Leanne McNaughton

After arriving at Union Gas, Leanne created a three-year business plan as an optimal strategy for the company and its social media platforms. She said the strategy was chosen because of the fast-changing pace of social media platforms.

“This length of time seemed long enough to give me the time to achieve the goals I set without becoming outdated. After three years, I will re-evaluate and transform the goals to suit the social trends,” Leanne said.

The three-year expectation has been met and exceeded with support from Leanne’s digital colleagues, specifically her manager and director. Together, they have grown the social community at Union Gas through engaging posts and marketing campaigns that promote, advocate and educate customers and stakeholders about natural gas, while managing customer issues and responding to questions and emergency situations.

To continue to improve this model, “We will leverage the power of social media as a high-functioning means of communications for Union Gas, which will enhance the brand and reputation,” Leanne said.

Leanne’s current focus on is customer service, since many customers prefer using social media over using a phone for customer support. Her future strategy will look at further integrating our customer relations team, and the possible use of messaging apps to enhance the customer and user experience.

 

Female employee working

It’s important to foster diversity in operational positions

Women in Operations is a group at Union Gas that is tackling stereotypes and re-defining male-dominated fields.

Some say there is a sense of pride in proving to yourself and to others that, no matter your size or your gender, you can safely and effectively handle any situation directed your way. It is what makes non-traditional positions gratifying.

A day in the life of a Utility Services Representative (USR), for example, is anything but ordinary. USRs are field workers who install meters, check appliances and perform other jobs, while interacting with customers in an outdoor environment. The role can bring some challenges and that’s why it’s important that Union Gas supports and fosters diversity in operational positions.

“One of the most positive experiences is when you change a meter and people ask if you’re going to do it by yourself and you reply, ‘Yes.’ They just think that it is awesome,” said Susan Temple, a USR with Union Gas.

Women in an operations roles are happy to find a welcoming and comfortable culture at Union Gas. The company has provided educational opportunities and programs for female USRs, as well as reviewed hiring practices, which has helped retain and encourage more females to join the team.

Female employee shaking hands with a female employee

A trio of events at Union Gas have developed into annual opportunities for women to support women in the workplace.

Women of Energy, Women in Engineering, and Women in Operations have common purposes, in that they provide forums for women to network with their peers and senior leaders — with dialogue about the unique challenges that women in the workplace face.

Beth Cummings, a founder and key organizer, said they want women in operations “to know they are not alone. This energizing time together lets them build their network, so they can connect and learn from each other.”

“It makes me really proud to see more women join Union Gas,” said Carrie Cook, manager, Operations Support and Administration. “We are becoming a better representation of the communities we work in.”

Strong work-life balance

Portrait of Luke

Luke Skaarup started lifting weights at the age of 16, as a high school football player. At the time, he had little understanding of the physiology behind the changes he saw in himself, but the results came quickly — he gained 40 pounds over his first summer of weightlifting. The following year, he was one of the strongest players on the team.

Over the years, weightlifting remained one of Luke’s passions and with that he branched out into bodybuilding, and then dabbled in rugby and powerlifting. Starting a family along the way gave him less time to devote to his pastime, but Luke eventually caught up with some high school friends who were involved in Strong Man competitions. These events combine the physical accomplishment of strength-based manoeuvers with the entertainment value of a television show. He signed up for his first Ontario’s Strongest Man competition on a whim, and placed 9th out of 25 competitors by performing such tasks as lifting a car, pulling a transport, and flipping 1,000 pound tires.

Luke’s strength was deadlifting, and based on the results he saw from other competitors, he knew that he had the potential to excel. He doubled down his efforts to dedicate himself to the sport, and won his next competition outright.

The draw he felt to the sport was provided by the team atmosphere. Competitors in these events are not only competing against each other; they are also trying to set new personal bests and to push their individual limits. There is lots of crowd support at the events, and competitors form a small tight-knit circle of friends who have lots in common.

luke lifting weights

On the entertainment side of things, event promoters dubbed Luke “The Iron Viking.” He obtained his Canadian pro card in his second year of competition, and won another Ontario Strong Man series. In 2012 he became Ontario’s Strongest Man Champion and ranked as high as 8th in the world, setting many records in Ontario and Canada along the way. His 18” deadlift record – a staggering 1,150 pounds – still stands today, just 30 pounds shy of the all-time world record.

Power sports result in lots of wear and tear on the body, and after competing in up to eight events per year, Luke was faced with some lasting injuries – a few torn muscles and a sore back. He retired from the sport of strongman in 2015. These days, Luke is still in top shape by most standards, but has shifted his focus to coaching high school football and sparking interest in weight training youth in his community.

At work, Luke is excelling as Union Gas’ manager of the IMS & Program Support Department.

Luke has advice for others looking to excel in a pastime outside of the office, gleaned from years spent juggling his career, family, and the demands of a busy training schedule: Don’t get too focused on any one thing. To maintain balance with a busy schedule, it helps to focus on the important aspects of your life and to put your energy there. For Luke, what this meant was keeping things simple and focusing his energy on his wife and four children, his career and his sport.

He believes it’s possible to do your job well, and shift priorities between family and hobbies as circumstances allow.

Pride event at head office continues important conversations

Organizers of Chatham’s first Pride event held at the Union Gas head office in Chatham, Ont., in August 2017 were overwhelmed as registrations came pouring in within the first three hours of sending the invite. By the end of the day, all seats were filled, and a waiting list was started.

With Chatham’s Pride Month in mind, the event was organized to celebrate and honour the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer plus) community. However, it was also a time of reflection and awareness about the barriers that continue to exist. In Canada, almost 30 per cent of LGBTQ+ individuals experience discrimination in the workplace compared with 2.9 per cent of the general population.

“At Union Gas and Enbridge, our shared values include safety, integrity and respect,” said Mike Shannon, vice president Distribution Operations and co-sponsor of the event.

“In the context of diversity and inclusion, safety means ensuring we all feel safe to bring our whole selves to work.”

– Mike Shannon

Tanya Mushynski, vice president Canada Gas and Union Gas Law and long-time advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, moderated the event for over 100 attendees including many members of the executive leadership team.  The crowd had the opportunity to hear the inspiring and insightful stories of their colleagues as they shared their experiences living as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Let’s continue the conversation with our teams and leaders about the challenges and obstacles as well as triumphs the LGBTQ+ community faces both at home and at work,” said Jim Redford, vice president Business Development, Storage and Transmission and event co-sponsor.   “We all have a role to play to make sure every employee at Union and Enbridge, no matter who they are or where they come from or what they look like or how they live, feels welcomed and valued at work.”

For many years, Union Gas has hosted a Pride event in Toronto as part of the cities celebrations in partnership with Torys law firm.  There are plans to make the Chatham event an annual occurrence to ensure the conversation continues.