Sylvia K. Barnes considers herself very fortunate to have had a series of opportunities in petroleum engineering, complex investment banking transactions, various management positions and now private and public company board of director responsibilities. She started off being hired as a summer intern at Esso Resources, a subsidiary of Exxon Corp., after completing her first-year engineering courses. The Winnipeg native said it gave her valuable insights into career opportunities at a major oil and gas company.

“I was offered a wide variety of employment opportunities as a dean’s honor roll graduate of mechanical engineering,” she said. “However, I chose the upstream oil and gas sector because, at the time, its dynamic growth potential, technical innovations, career advancement potential and flat-out sizzle, surpassed alternatives available in other sectors such as automotive, steel, mining, aeronautical and machine design.”

Since then, she has risen to become principal at Tanda Resources, a privately held oil and gas company focused on upstream investments and consulting.

Capital career 

Over the course of her career, Barnes has assisted in raising more than $18.9 billion of public and private equity, $26.6 billion of public and private debt, in advising on $9.6 billion of corporate sale or merger transactions, and in closing $5.6 billion of asset divestiture transactions.

“The most interesting transactions I’ve worked on have included specific tax considerations. For example, I played a key role in successfully executing innovative tax-advantaged transactions with non-AMT entities purchasing Section 29 tax credit qualified producing assets, structuring intangible drilling cost deductions as tax-advantaged investments and deconsolidating a supermajor oil company’s domestic upstream asset for tax reasons.


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“More recently I’ve been appointed as a board member at a public company during the midst of a hostile takeover contest and been elected to stay on the board of directors after losing the proxy fight. Another memorable endeavor was being appointed to the board of directors of a highly leveraged public company at the behest of the second-lien debt holders and being actively involved with the company as it went through filing Chapter 11 for a second time within four years.”

Seizing opportunities 

“In my early years working in the oil and gas industry, I seized every opportunity I had to be in the field (e.g., at drilling rigs, heavy oil extraction facilities and compression plants). I also sought out opportunities to be involved with technical research ventures.

“When I was working as a reservoir engineer and unexpectedly was given the opportunity to attend graduate school, I didn’t hesitate to move out of my comfort zone and relocate to eastern Canada to enroll in an MBA program.

“When I was working as a junior banker in Calgary and was given the opportunity to ask for a relocation, I surprised even myself by stating I wanted a transfer to New York as soon as possible.

“When working on complex transactions, particularly with critical tax considerations, I didn’t settle for the easy solutions if more thoughtful and creative solutions were achievable.”

Memorable milestone 

“Achieving the title of managing director and having P&L responsibility for a full team of oil and gas professionals was clearly an important milestone in my career. I appreciated that two of the gentlemen I reported to supported my advancement and championed my promotion. On a more personally memorable level, I distinctly recall the first time, as a managing director during an annual review with one of my direct reports, that I truly appreciated having the opportunity to tangibly recognize a colleague’s contribution to the success of our firm. I distinctly remember the moment I let my colleague know what his annual bonus was going to be—and he told me how much he appreciated no longer having to be concerned about paying for his children’s college tuition.”

Oil and gas motivation 

“I’m convinced that humanity’s access to affordable energy substantially improves quality of life for all. The world is going to need crude oil and natural gas for the foreseeable future, and the inherent nature of depleting reservoir productivity will drive our industry to keep us motivated and passionate about our work—granted with new appreciation of the need to markedly improve efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions.”