FortisBC CEO sparks energetic discussion: CEO Series

Apr 11, 2013
John Walker, CEO of FortisBC, being interviewed at the Beedie School of Business by CKNW host Bill Good.

John Walker, CEO of FortisBC, being interviewed at the Beedie School of Business by CKNW host Bill Good.

The spring series of CKNW 980’s “The Chief Executives” continued with John Walker, CEO of energy provider FortisBC, sharing his vision for the future of Canada’s energy industry with CKNW host Bill Good in front of a live audience at the Segal Graduate School.

The event was part of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business and prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to bring leadership and business insights from some of Canada’s top executives to SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus.

Walker opened by reminiscing about his early life, which saw him grow up in a small mining community in Newfoundland.

He revealed that he had several jobs in the local community from a young age, including newspaper routes, collecting scrap metal, and working with prospectors in the bush. The latter gave him his first experience in leading a team, as he found himself responsible for leading a crew of 50 workers at the age of only 18.

“I could never just sit on the sidelines, even if I tried,” he said. “I like to lead the pack – if I saw something that I wanted to change I aspired to do just that.”

As an undergraduate Walker majored in psychology, with a minor in mathematics, before going on to attend military school. He left after one year upon deciding it was not the correct route for him, instead going on to obtain an MBA. He expressed to Good how important the MBA was in providing a business and finance perspective, and also offered some alternative advice to any prospective students.

“Education is very important to anyone, but the biggest thing you can take from university is to teach yourself to think,” he said. “You can’t learn everything from a textbook, so it’s important to learn to challenge yourself and to think differently.”

Asked what qualities he looks for in employees, Walker revealed that in addition to technical skills, he looks for people who possess leadership qualities who are capable of rising through the organization. He said that he recognizes that while some people may possess leadership skills, those qualities may not be applicable in every scenario, and that it is difficult to tell how a person will perform in a role until they actually start to do that job.

Walker spoke at length about the BC energy sector throughout the interview, beginning with his organization’s attempts to move towards being more customer focused over the last 25 years. “I believe this is an area in which we are still evolving – we all use energy and we take it for granted, but people don’t understand what it takes to get that energy to their house,” he said.

He moved on to discuss the impact of local government on the energy sector, before sharing his opinion on the importance of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the BC and Canadian economy, and the potential that LNG has for Canadians, provided they work to take advantage of this and do not become complacent.

“Natural gas is unlike oil – there won’t be a cartel, as it is global and not restricted to certain regions,” he explained. “Canadians have to remember that we have long made our living in the resource sector and we have an opportunity here to exploit the potential.”

Good at one point asked what he referred to as an “off-the-wall” question, when he sought Walker’s opinion as to what energy model of car he would purchase today if he were looking to buy.

Walker acknowledged the difficulty for consumers in this regard, stating that he would probably choose a hybrid if pushed, but that as the technology is evolving so rapidly, it will likely come down to personal preference, with no one clear fuel model dominating the sector.

The live audience was encouraged to ask questions of Walker, with one inquisitive mind enquiring as to what his core values and beliefs are. He explained that in his industry safety is paramount, and is something FortisBC reinforces every day. He also expressed how critical teamwork is in his organization, that he is a great believer in candour, and that loyalty, honesty, and integrity are values he encourages his employees to embrace.

During the interview, Walker also fielded questions on topics such as his opinion on the future of LNG, the ramifications on exporting LNG, the potential for change in the energy sector brought on by the forthcoming elections, how FortisBC deals with uncertainty in their industry, how they adapt to innovation, and how the great historical leaders tackled societal change.

To see all the CEO interviews from the 2013 CKNW Chief Executives Series, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/2013-cknw-ceo-series/

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