Alberta Oil magazine’s 2016 CEO of the year Lorenzo Donadeo may be driven but he hasn’t forgotten life’s simple things.
An Italian phrase the Red Deer-raised Vermilion Energy founder inherited from his parents and holds dear is “La dolce de fare niente.”
It translates as “the sweetness of doing nothing.”
To Donadeo, that means travels abroad with his extended family and gatherings at his Sylvan Lake cottage that regularly bring 20 to 30 relatives together.
Make no mistake though, hard work runs through the Donadeo family like the coal seams his father, Antonio, chipped away at in Mercoal, Alta. when he and his wife Vittoria first immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1952.
“It was a really difficult and a terrible job. It wasn’t very safe. They persevered because they didn’t have a lot of options and made the best of the situation,” recalls Lorenzo, who lives in Calgary.
His father toiled in Mercoal (now a ghost town located about 70 km southeast of Hinton) until around 1958. The mine closed and the family, including a two-year-old Lorenzo, moved to Red Deer.
Here, Vic Walls, a local paving pioneer and owner of Border Paving, hired Antonio as a rake man.
“Vic is a great guy. He gave my dad a golden opportunity,” says Lorenzo, 60, adding his father spent 30 years with Border before retiring.
Lorenzo’s mother, Vittoria, worked as a cleaning lady at Michener Centre. But for the residents there, she was much more.
“She was very dedicated to her job and she cared immensely for the kids. I think she was really respected and admired by everyone there.”
Both parents still live in Red Deer’s Eastview neighbourhood. His wife Donna, one of 10 children of Ewen and Anne Wright, was raised here and most of her family still live here. Both sides of the family routinely gather at their Sylvan Lake cottages.
Lorenzo grew up with three sisters in a two-bedroom, 800-square-foot home in north Red Deer and attended Montfort, St. Thomas Aquinas and Camille J. Lerouge Schools.
“Red Deer was a great place to grow up. We used to do a lot of fishing by Prairie Creek (near Rocky Mountain House).”
His first job was as a Red Deer Advocate paperboy. “It was a great job for a young kid.” Jobs at Woolco in the shoe department and in concrete work followed.
After graduating from high school, he took a year off and worked for the railways and in Fort McMurray for a year before taking welding engineering technology at SAIT.
He did well and was encouraged enough to pursue an engineering degree.
He left university with his freshly minted degree at a good time.
The oil and gas business was peaking in 1981 and the young engineer had his pick of nine job offers. He rose through the ranks in Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas, Dome Petroleum and later Amoco before starting Calgary-based Vermilion Energy in 1994.
In choosing its top CEO for 2016, Alberta Oil was impressed by Donadeo’s coolness under pressure and ability to grow production at a time when the province’s oil and gas industry is struggling. Two major deals, which saw the oil and gas intermediate establish a presence into Croatia and northwestern Germany, were highlighted in the magazine’s glowing profile of the executive.
Alberta and Saskatchewan are still a key part of its operations, but Vermilion’s European assets, also include a presence in France, the Netherlands and Ireland’s offshore gas resources. Europe is all about positioning the company for future growth, he told Alberta Oil.
For Donadeo, that future will be managed as Chairman of the Board, after he stepped down as Vermilion CEO last month, a move he admits wasn’t easy.
“But it’s been a really successful run. We provided about 30 per cent compound annual return,” he says, adding the company also won many workplace awards for its enviable work culture.
He may be giving up his “dream job” but he’s already looking forward to spending more time on another family business, Casadona Group, where he joins two of his three sons, Franco and Tony. The youngest son, Marco, works there in summers while in university getting his business degree.
Casadona has commercial real estate assets and run a bond and equity fund. Casadona is an abbreviated version of the Italian for house of Donadeo a nod to its place as a “family” firm.
Family is at the root of everything his parents told him.
“Family comes first.
“They also taught us that hard work is very important. They taught us about perseverance. Sometimes you have to overcome obstacles but you just keep working at them until you overcome them.
“And they taught us to enjoy our life as a family. Those are the key things I still hold on to and try to teach my kids.”