NCR: 20 Questions with Anna Murray
There are a few people in my life I know I can go to when I want to look at something from every angle, to truly dig into an idea or issue outside of my natural bias: Anna Murray is one of the best of those people. She is a woman with a wonderfully dynamic mind that is fiercely logical and yet also skilled in systems thinking. Anna is one of the smartest people I know and is also accessible in that intelligence~she is unpretentious and seeks new perspective. And she’s bloody goofy, with a sharp wit and a caring for others and emotional depth that I think shocks her at times.
And I wanted to share her with you.
Anna’s vital stats:
- She is Senior Advisor, Corporate Affairs at Talisman Energy
- Her expertise includes stakeholder engagement, human rights and security, community relations, and social risk management.
- She speaks an array of languages… English, French, Spanish and Mandarin.
- She’s mom to a cheeky daughter and wife to the pretty awesome Brent Sharpless.
- She founded Young Women in Energy (YWE), championing young women working in energy.
- Anna is also the recipient of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 award, Avenue Magazine listed her Top 40 Under 40, Oil and gas investor’s "20 under 40" rising stars in Exploration and Production Companies, and by Canadian Business Magazine as set to transform the face of business in Canada.
- She has also worked at the United Nations, GlencoreXstrata and HSBC
- Author of a case study for the joint UN High Commissioner for Human Rights- UN Global Compact publication entitled, “Embedding Human Rights in Business Practices III” which has been promoted around the world as a best practice example on business and human rights.
In short, she is fantastic and I am lucky to be her friend.
New Culture Revolution: Who are you?
Anna Murray: There are two me’s: the suit-wearing-business-mind and the globe-trotting-bohemian. I’ve done my best to amalgamate the two over the years and have recently added a third dynamic: baby-on-hip-social entrepreneur. Having said all that, some days the only thing I’m truly certain of is my unwavering love of wontons.
NCR: What was a defining moment in your childhood?
AM: When I was a teenager, an award-winning author from India came to live with us while she was visiting Canada on sabbatical. My mother was away for a month and so this 40 year old woman and I shared the house together - just the two of us. Despite the obvious age, cultural and interest gap, we got along like a house on fire. She taught me all about India, her culture, her food, her way of life. She was such a wonderful influence in my life and opened my eyes to life outside the West. We are still friends to this day.
NCR: What inspired you to get into the fields you’ve worked in?
AM: Travelling around the developing world, I saw first hand the impact globalization was having in the far-reaching and forgotten corners of the globe. I felt worried and inspired all at once. I saw that business and society were inextricably linked and that development was inevitable. I wanted to help make that inevitable change happen in more ethical ways.
NCR: What is the common thread that ties in your choices professionally and personally?
Conviction. Challenge. Change.
AM: What is your mission?
To help engage, inspire and progress those around me. Growing up in the West has afforded me many opportunities and I try to take advantage of that. I want to give back.
NCR:How do you achieve work / life balance?
AM: I’m not sure such a thing exists. It is definitely an ebb and flow process. Often it’s more of one thing than another. And then it will switch. Sometimes all of the work pieces are perfectly aligned - other times it’s the life pieces. It would be dishonest for me to say that everything was always balanced. This is life. I like to go where life takes me and be (un)comfortable with the shifts; even if it means being unbalanced. Ironically not having it all perfectly together helps me identify opportunities and inspires new ideas.
NCR: Which books have made an impact on you?
AM: My go to book as of late is Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. She is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and was ranked eighth on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business – a truly inspirational human. Sandberg encourages women to find work they love, take on challenge and remain passionately engaged. My biggest take-away from the book was when she remarked “don’t leave before you leave”. This was her way of urging her readers to go-ahead and take on challenges before turning them down on the assumption they won’t be able to handle it. Words to live by. It is incredible how large an individual’s capacity is.
NCR: Who inspires you and why?
AM: On a personal level, my daughter inspires me because of her sense of humour. She reminds me on a daily basis that being silly is really the best place to be.
My husband inspires me because he is incredibly kind. Consistent, genuine kindness is the most valuable and difficult trait to come by.
My mother inspires me because she is truly authentic. Unfettered originality is the difference between average and exceptional.
On a professional level, Hillary Clinton because she is so compelling. Intelligence combined with passion is the most powerful force of all.
NCR: What do you feel is needed to improve the lives of women in the west working and maintaining a family right now?
AM: Practically speaking, I would say workplace daycares. This would be beneficial to both the employee and the employer. The employee would benefit from time-savings and convenience of location, whereas the employer would benefit from an increasingly engaged workforce and higher levels of retention as a result.
NCR: What is your passion?
AM: Designing, implementing and mobilizing (big) business resources and strategy to improve the world we live in.
NCR: What is your guilty pleasure TV show?
AM: Currently it is The Good Wife. The show depicts a mother/lawyer who faces moral and ethical dilemmas. It walks us through her approach to dealing with untenable ethical challenges in the every day life of a working mother. I think it has substance.
NCR: If you could have one skill you don’t already what would it be and why?
AM: The skill I admire most in others is an ability to write clearly, honestly and eloquently. Such a skill is wonderfully powerful.
NCR: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in the workplace you’ve chosen?
AM: The challenges women face in the workplace have been examined time and time again – from lower comparable salaries to inter-female competition in limited upward mobility scenarios. I’m a big believer that the focus should be on personal reflection and how we can be our greatest advocate, or our own worst enemy. I might humbly suggest that we would all benefit from focusing on ourselves as individuals. Rather than myopically identifying every hurdle, we should build our confidence, sense of self and capabilities. This approach will ultimately work as a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will probably surprise yourself.
NCR: What do you find travel offers to your life and knowledge?
AM: Travelling can be the most personally fulfilling and professionally rewarding activity you can undertake in your life. Exposing yourself to other cultures and economic realities expands your understanding of the external world and helps to challenge your attachment to what normal is. Travelling has the ability to foster compassion in the most unexpected ways.
NCR: What motivates you when everything you are doing becomes really challenging? How do you keep moving forward?
AM: Nothing extraordinary comes from sitting around. I feel incredibly motivated by the people I have met around the globe. We are blessed to live in a part of the world where opportunity is abundant. I feel it is our responsibility to take advantage of such privilege in order to give back and help shape a better world.
NCR: What is sustainability to you?
AM: Approaching business challenges with balanced and informed reason to enable workable solutions for all parties involved. In other words – ensuring all those (potentially) affected by an activity have a seat at the table and a voice with which to speak. Whether we are referring to big business or personal relationships, the key to long lasting, productive relationships is ensuring transparent, consistent and equitable communication.
NCR: What is leadership?
AM: Authentically building up the people around you.
NCR: You are in a very controversial industry, how do you handle this controversy?
AM: ‘Controversy’ demands a balanced perspective. Outright condemnation does not often bear productive or realistic solutions. In this respect, I feel it is best to reflect on my own actions and understand my involvement in the perceived ‘controversy’ before jumping to an opinion. For example, we need energy to exist as we do – whether it is to heat homes and cook food, advance scientific and medical technology or power the lights in schools and hospitals. Given this reality, I prefer to focus on a constructive dialogue to encourage a balanced approach through consultation and engagement with all stakeholders.
NCR: Which piece of art that you own (of any format) is your favourite? Why?
AM: I have a beautiful painting of the hamsa. The hamsa depicts the open right hand, an image used as a sign of protection in many societies throughout history, believed to provide defense against evil. This painting is so near and dear to my heart as it was purchased in Turkey with some of my dearest friends after a challenging and eye-opening trip in Syria. It invokes the best of memories for me - exceptional friendships, a beautiful part of the world and thought provoking experience.
NCR: The best meal you have ever had? Location? Time of day? Company? etc…
AM: Sometimes simple is best, no? For me eating is often more about the experience than the food itself. Northwest India - Gujurat, the Little Ran of Kutch. My mum and I had been backpacking around India for almost 2 months. We were in a remote village and were the only tourists around. We sat down at an open-air, road-side ‘café’. We were served a steaming hot cup of fresh chai tea and the most delicious chapatti with chutney. The gentlemen at the table down from us were smoking bidis, small hand-rolled cigarettes wrapped in tree leaves tied with string. The sun was setting. A bright old turquoise truck drove by carrying bags of turmeric. One of the bags must have been torn, as while the rickety old truck drove past, it left streaks of orange dust in its trail. The air was faint with the scent of spice. The setting sun was warm on our faces. All senses invoked - sight, smell, taste.