FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with John Bobenic
June 16, 2015
Our meeting was several times re-scheduled by both of us a couple of times – but I am so glad I got to finally sit down with John. I learned a lot, saw a lot – not to say we’ll become fast friends, but he is easily someone who you would like to have as a friend – no nonsense, no fluff, no equivocation.
We talked about power and people. John describes Maxim as, within his industry, “the largest upstart. We have 39 power plants, 780 megawatts installed capacity”. He wanted to tell more about the company. I wanted to know more about John. I think our time was a reasonable compromise of the two.
Amiable, but tentative.
That’s how I would describe my first impressions of John Bobenicwhen we met. I’d worked with him, or rather with his company Maxim Power Corp. before on a P3 power project – but John and I had never met face to face …
I won’t recite his considerable professional credentials here – they are well documented on his company's website (see link above).
He is clearly not just another home-grown Calgary CA – he is a powerful power entrepreneur who works very hard at what is no doubt a technical and numbers game – but he demonstrates easily that he is an effective and passionate communicator. A people person?
Amiable – as most CEO-types are, gracious, open and animated when talking about his company, about shareholders and board, about staff, about projects. Tentative when questions turn personal, turn private. As the interview wore on, he opened a few cracks which revealed character, history and pathos …
Early on in our meeting – making himself unmistakably clear, John states: “I’m pro-hydro-carbon.” This just days after G7 leaders pledged to make the planet non-carbon by 2100.
John’s parents met in Toronto. Mom did office work. Dad was an RCAF navigator in Lancaster bombers during WWII. Dad’s post-war career was as a travelling salesman – away all week – returning home on summer Fridays with a basket of blueberries! John was born in North Bay, ON. The family moved to Calgary. John graduated from Henry Wise Wood High – did his Commerce Degree and Executive MBA at University of Calgary. He has on older brother (a high school principal in Calgary), has been married to Jodi for thirty years. They have three children, one of whom is gone …
John describes himself as a shy kid growing up – with a strong work ethic from an early age (12), cutting lawns, paper routes, tire repairs and golf course work – working at many odd jobs to earn spending money. Hockey and skiing were his sports. He describes himself as a good-student in high school and an OK one in university.
What has contributed most to your success? “I have a lot of drive. Success come from a will to succeed. I have an iron will to succeed.”
What has held you back? “There is more I can do – but I sacrifice to have it. I haven’t had a mentor for a long time. It’s lonely running a company.”
I asked John how he sees his business “independent power business”; I asked ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… Q1 was very sobering. Tough in Alberta – lowest prices since deregulation. Lots of supply, decreased demand and a warm winter. Temperature driven peak markets are good for us. Policy issues … market design, climate change …
And over the next five years?
… quite good. I’m very optimistic about Alberta’s future for our business. Supply-side constrained, refurbishing old facilities away from coal will have a large public cost. LNG will happen. Coal viability is a function of natural gas price. Uncertainty about tax on CO2. Our target is to grow to $500 million - $1 billion in enterprise value (right now we are about $200 million) which I see us achieving. The first fifteen years of growth took longer than expected, but we have achieved scale and efficiency. Our goal has been to build, sell and make money for our shareholders.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… trust and loyalty. People I like who have value and respect.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose John Bobenic, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
... we respect our counterparties. Honest and direct in our dealings. We adhere to the letter and intent of our agreements.
How would you describe your management style?
… tough but fair. We’re an entrepreneurial (eight shareholders hold 80% of our stock) shop. People need to have a life after work. We know how to celebrate our wins!
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… big government. Lack of opportunities for my kids. Lightly progressive government is too big and inefficient …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… we lived in Chile for four years in my TransAlta days. Met lots of world-class decision makers, learned the language – loved Santiago. Our youngest was born there. We really enjoyed being part of the ex-pat community.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… I’ve had to find it. I’m not the man I want to be. I’ve had a problem for thirty years – I’m now close to being happy with my priorities. [John, tearing up, discussed off the record the tragic loss of his son, at 21, which has been an horrific grief for him and his family – and lessons learned]
… hiking. Skiing – snow and water. We have a lake cabin in Washington state.
… daily, a Jeep TJ. And a 2015 Corvette. And a 2009 Ducati 1098 motorcycle.
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