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Epcor’s Don Lowry a class act

Alberta Business Person of the Year discusses his lessons of leadership

Jan 20, 2011

by Paul Marck

More than 450 business leaders and professionals crowded a ballroom at Edmonton’s Westin Hotel Thursday to honour Don Lowry, president of Epcor Utilities Inc. and Alberta’s Business Person of the Year. Lowry’s accomplishments are epic — he took a small, municipal water utility, grew it into a profitable regional entity and then got into the power generation business, acquiring TransCanada Power LP in 2005, and then split the company in two, creating Capital Power in 2009.

“You stuck your neck out, you did a good thing and there will be a great legacy following that,” Jane Halford, executive director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Alberta, told the Business Person of the Year luncheon in introducing Lowry.

For his part, Lowry spoke emotionally about the influences in his life, including his parents, who flew in specially from Winnipeg for the event, his family, and mentors. “One doesn’t achieve this kind of recognition on your own,” Lowry said, adding that it takes an army of talent behind any leader to make worthwhile accomplishments. Those accomplishments include delivering dividends totaling $1.8 billion to Epcor’s shareholder, the City of Edmonton, since Lowry took over Epcor in 1997.

Perhaps the best part of Lowry’s speech to the assembled crowd of influential figures — which included Doug Horner, Alberta Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, and Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Service Alberta, and Lynn Mandel, Edmonton’s First Lady and wife of Mayor Stephen Mandel – was in revealing his conditions for success and lessons of leadership. So here they are:

Don Lowry’s conditions for success:

1. Good governance;

2. Balance sheet must meet business profile and risk;

3. Leadership must focus a priority on safety;

4. Growth strategy.

Lowry has another caveat: There is a necessary ingredient for high performance, be it a major crisis or restructuring event — in Epcor’s case it was the deregulation of the electricity retail market. “Don’t ever waste a good crisis,” said Lowry — learn from and act on it because there may not be such an opportunity again.

Here are Lowry’s lessons of leadership:

– Everyone is born with the potential to be a leader and everyone possesses a special skill.

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– Don’t expect to join a company at the top — work your way up.

– Leaders aren’t perfect.

– Don’t be complacent.

– Don’t make a decision in haste — sleep on it.

– Good judgment comes from experience, and that experience includes making mistakes.

– It is more important to do the right thing, rather than do things right.

– Never give up.

– A leader is only the third most important element in a company, behind the company itself and its people.

You can read the full text of Don Lowry’s remarks, Leadership from the Ground Up by clicking here.

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