Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award recipient a 'late starter' but develops confidence to start his own business
It's hard to imagine that Chris Gabrielson once lacked confidence. Growing up, his family always backed him, but they were frustrated that he wasn't living up to his potential, explains the 2006 Petroleum Engineering Technology graduate. Today, however, the 40 year old owns and operates one of the provinces well-established, award-winning oil and gas consulting companies. Hardly the work of someone walking aimlessly through the oil and gas sector, content to have a roof over his head and a steady paycheque.
Ka-Blam Consulting Inc. now provides consulting services to some of the province’s biggest players in the field and has worked across this country, the United States, Europe and South America. “Until I learned about goal setting and mapping out where I wanted to be in five, 10 and 20 years, I didn’t have a clear vision of where I wanted to go,” explains the soft spoken man.
Growing up in Drayton Valley, with many of his relatives working in the oil and gas sector, Gabrielson’s future was almost predetermined. He cut his teeth in the field .
During those years, however, Gabrielson clearly had his eyes and ears wide open—even though he wishes he had that time back. He was in fact learning about the industry literally from below the ground up. But unlike so many others content to live and work their entire careers in that world, Gabrielson realized he needed to put some formal education in his head and credentials behind his name. The self-described “late starter” returned to NAIT at age 27.
The origins of "Ka-Blam"
Chris Gabrielson and his fiancée, Amber Sommer, were on the way to register their new company. They had a list of possible company names picked out. They planned on making a decision at the registry.
“We wanted a company name that would stand out from the crowd and be memorable,” he recalls. “As we were driving there, Amber said ‘the name needs to be, like, Ka-Blam to people,’ and I said, why don't we just name it Ka-Blam?”
"It's never too late to change your life."
While in school, Gabrielson worked on the service rigs on weekends and relied on student loans. During his co-op placement he worked for a Calgary-based engineering company. Two weeks after graduating, the firm hired him into their Calgary office. There he assumed new and more responsibilities, including corporate planning, developing procedures, cost estimating and project management.
“At the time, the oil and gas industry was busy, so I ended up being the go-to guy for bigger projects because I was really efficient and was good at what I did. Each time I finished a project for a client, I would get more and more projects assigned to me.” That work took him across the country for four years.
Gabrielson soon realized that what set him apart was his client's trust in his work and his ability to handle several projects at a time. “The skills I had coming out of NAIT contributed significantly to my success,” he says emphatically: organizing, prioritizing, time management, looking after multiple school projects at once and getting it all done at the same time. It taught me will power, commitment, self-motivation, hard work, confidence—preparing me for my career. NAIT also taught me the theory involved in the oil and gas industry, the why and how to do things. I had the practical knowledge of what to do in the field, and later just learned how to put it all together.”
He now had a career, not just a job. So it wasn’t too surprising when the occasional client asked him why he wasn’t working for himself. “It was taking a leap of faith to start my own company.”
The first year was tough. Most of the bigger players already had contracts in place with other companies. But then he landed his first contract. And the phone started to ring. He was in business.
Gabrielson is proud of that track record of success. He now routinely sits down with investors, understands the objectives, develops the plan and oversees the work to completion. “I like project management,” says Gabrielson, who now describes himself as a completions engineering superintendent, instructor and mentor. What he’s also well aware of is the fact that he’s a “people person”. "I genuinely care about people and their projects, and I'm always aware of what motivates people, interested in what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. It’s not just about the technical work."
Today, with a demanding work life, he’s broadening the scope of his company and passions, establishing an affordable training and mentoring business for those who haven’t got the formal training to get a foot in the industry door. In effect, he’s providing an educational service to people who were like him at one time: lots of practical experience, but lacking some key knowledge.
Today, Chris donates his time and money to numerous charities and non-profit organizations and is an avid supporter of his alma mater. This year's Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award recipient gives back to the Petroleum Engineering Technology program by accommodating students for summer work placements, sitting on the program advisory committee, coordinating participation in the program’s annual Industry Day and providing professional development opportunities for NAIT staff.
He volunteers on the Canadian Heavy Oil Association (CHOA) Drilling and Completions Committee and as an advisor to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).
“When I’m not working, I’m a dad to my two kids, a six-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. I have a fiancée. I enjoy getting outside, all types of sports including slow pitch baseball and basketball. In addition, I like going for walks, running, weight lifting and camping.”