Suncor boss Mark Little stepping down 'effective immediately'

Calgary-based oil giant announced Friday that the CEO and the company's board have mutually agreed he will step down.

Calgary-based energy company appoints Kris Smith as interim CEO

Calgary-based Suncor announced Friday that Mark Little, pictured here in 2019, is no longer the company's chief executive. The company said it was a mutually agreed decision. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Calgary-based oil giant Suncor Energy announced Friday that its chief executive Mark Little is stepping down, stating the move was "effective immediately."

The company said its board and Little mutually agreed he would depart as president and CEO and resign from the board. Suncor's executive vice-president of downstream operations, Kris Smith, has been named interim CEO.

The development comes a day after Occupational Health and Safety announced it is investigating the death of a 26-year-old contractor who was struck by equipment at Suncor's Base Mine near Fort McMurray, Alta.

Thursday's death was the fifth workplace fatality at a Suncor site in Alberta since 2021.

Suncor did not mention the incidents in its news release Friday but did discuss safety as a priority at the company.

"Suncor is committed to achieving safety and operational excellence across our business, and we must acknowledge where we have fallen short and recognize the critical need for change," said board chair Michael Wilson in a statement.

"We commend Mark for his professionalism and the exceptional work he did to guide Suncor through the pandemic and lead our sector's progressive approach to the energy transition.

"We thank him for his years of service with the company and wish him well."

Critic says company requires 'real changes'

Earlier this spring, Suncor found itself in the crosshairs of well-known U.S.-based activist investor Elliot Investment Management, which wrote a letter calling for an overhaul of Suncor's board and management. Elliot highlighted Suncor's safety track record, as well as other operational challenges and the company's lagging share price.

Elliot declined to comment Monday on the latest developments at Suncor.

But Eight Capital analyst Phil Skolnick, who downgraded Suncor's stock to a "sell" rating on Monday, said in a note that Suncor requires "real changes," not just a new CEO. He pointed out that at least 12 deaths have occurred at Suncor sites since 2014, which is "something that we have never seen in the 25 years of covering the sector."

"The issue isn't a one-person situation," Skolnick wrote. "This is about the corporate culture where accidental deaths have plagued the company even prior to Mr. Little's tenure as CEO (which) began in 2019."

Little joined the company in 2008 and served in several leadership roles in the company's oilsands and international and offshore operations prior to moving to the top of Suncor's ranks.

He moved from chief operating officer to become president of the company in late 2018 and assumed the post of chief executive officer a few months later.

Suncor said it has formed a CEO search committee to conduct a global search to select the company's next top executive. It said it's engaging a global executive recruiting firm to assist with this process. 

With files from Canadian Press