In preparation for his retirement after 26 successful years at TransCanada, Steve Pohlod shares his thoughts and insights on TransCanada’s evolution and prospects for the future. Pohlod’s most recent role as President of the Energy East Pipeline project enabled him to play an instrumental part in the development of one of the most significant energy infrastructure projects currently being proposed in Canada. With his many company memories at hand and decades of energy and engineering experience, Pohlod is tremendously proud of what TransCanada has achieved and the caliber of people it employs. As for Energy East, he believes the project is truly in the Canadian national interest and is confident it will be approved under the stewardship of TransCanada’s best and brightest, and with broad commercial, political and public support. Below is a transcript of Pohlod’s exit interview.
Tell me about your experience at TransCanada.
My experience at TransCanada began in 1989 as a young man starting out in the energy business. I’m not sure where the past 26 years have gone but time has definitely flown by. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the tremendous privilege and opportunity to work with and learn from true industry leaders who excel in their field. Having served in a number of different roles, I’ve had the privilege to learn various aspects of the business across many different areas of the organization. These experiences exposed me to all of the many different facets of the energy transportation industry, not just in Canada but across North America.
In your 26 years, how have you seen the company change?
TransCanada has been in a state of constant evolution ever since I started, and I think that’s been our biggest advantage. When the headquarters were moved from Toronto to Calgary, I really got a sense of just how large the organization was. Yet, with only 2500 employees at the time, it was only a fraction of the over 5000 employees that we have today.
A big factor for our growth was the merger with NOVA Corporation in 1998, following NOVA’s decision to separate its petrochemical and natural gas lines of business. It was the largest energy merger in Canadian history up until that point. Since that big move, TransCanada has transformed from a relatively small gas pipeline company into a leading North American energy infrastructure organization; focused not only in gas transportation but also in power supply, oil transportation and also in renewables such as wind, hydro and solar.
What have been some of TransCanada’s greatest successes and challenges?
Over my time here, I’ve seen TransCanada successfully transition into an ever-growing energy infrastructure organization with significant assets across the energy field. I see this diversification as one of our organization’s chief successes. It’s not only enabled us to make key investments in energy infrastructure across North America but it’s also allowed us the opportunity to safely provide North Americans with the energy they need to heat their homes and communities, travel to and from work, and use products needed in our everyday lives. That’s something I am very proud to have been a part of.
In terms of our biggest challenge; I see the continued need to transform, innovate and adjust to meet the needs of our ever-changing world as a potential challenge, but in truth, I see this as more of an opportunity for us.
We are the best at what we do. We do it better than anybody. We are constantly evolving to develop new programs to meet new challenges and are always investing in new technologies to ensure we continue to deliver energy safely to communities across the continent.
What prompted you to take on the role as lead of the Energy East project?
Taking on this role was a real honour for me. I could see this would be a very rare opportunity to oversee the development of a project that would be the first of its kind in providing Canadians with the chance to have greater access to their own natural resources. As Canadians, we should be proud of the land and resources that we’ve been given, and we should not take that for granted. The Energy East project will help create a national connection for these important resources and in the process will provide benefits for all Canadians. I’m tremendously proud of Energy East and believe that we have some of the best people in the company fully dedicated to the project. I feel fortunate to have been able to work alongside them.
How does TransCanada benefit from being involved in a project of this scale?
I do not believe that anyone else could build a pipeline as safely and as reliably as our organization. We’ve been building and operating pipelines for over six decades. In that time, we’ve demonstrated that we have the ability, expertise, and people to build and operate such an important piece of infrastructure.
I should take a further second to mention the people. In that 60 year timeframe, we have built relationships with landowners, communities and First Nations and Metis people along every one of our pipelines. Many of our employees live and work in the communities along our pipeline routes and we are proud of these connections. For us, any opportunity to engage with community members is always an added benefit to what we do.
What has been the biggest challenge of this project for you?
For me, the biggest challenge is really the magnitude of such a critical project. Every person on the project plays a key role in some form or another. They bring an expertise and a function that, no matter how large or small, is vital to the pipeline’s success. Bringing all of these pieces together on a project that spans six provinces is essential, which is why I am proud of what our team has already accomplished.
Since last year, we’ve been out in the field gathering data and performing engineering and environmental studies to present the best possible options for a pipeline of this size and scope.
We’ve also held over 60 open houses, met with over 155 First Nation and Metis communities, spoken with over 5,500 landowners and met with over 500 communities along the route to ensure we gathered their feedback as we continued to design and plan the pipeline—and that was just last year.
We are planning to hold more meetings and open houses this year as we move forward with our pipeline development planning and, as with every project, we will continue to engage for as long as the pipeline is around.
What will you miss the most?
I’ll miss the rush and exhilaration of being involved in a project of this magnitude and importance. Most of all, I’ll miss the fun of working with an incredible team of talented and hardworking people.
Do you think the outcome for Energy East will be a positive one? If so, why?
I’m confident that we will be successful in getting this pipeline built and put in service. We have a tremendous level of commercial support from shippers who see this as a fantastic opportunity. Just as important, we have the support from many different governments, labour unions and a large portion of the general public along the pipeline route. People see the need for this pipeline and the benefits it will bring across the country. It’s a very important project and I can say with certainty that we as an organization are very proud to be a part of it.
We thank Steve Pohlod for his many years of dedicated service and are pleased to announce the addition of Francois Poirier as the new Energy East president. Mr. Poirier brings over 25 years of investment banking and consulting experience to the project, advising clients in the pipelines, power plants, and gas and electric utilities industries. Mr. Poirier will be a great addition to the Energy East project. Stay tuned for more information on Mr. Poirier and his thoughts on Energy East over the coming weeks.