What's Happening In Southern Alberta

EFC Luncheon – Lessons From Leaders

junior achievement student takes notes at the economic futures council luncheon

2015 Junior Achievement of Southern Alberta – Economic Futures Council Luncheon

October 1, 2015 – Hyatt Regency Calgary

Lessons from Leaders Q&A with


Jim Davidson, Chairman – FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

1) What is the biggest lesson in integrity you ever learned and who taught it to you?

The greatest lesson on the importance of integrity occurred when I was still a young child. I took something from a Dominion store in Toronto and my parents ensured that I returned it to the checkout girl. I was accompanied back to the store by my father, who not only made sure that I returned the item, but also that I apologized to the checkout girl. My father informed me “she could have lost her job” – it was at that moment the severity of what I had done struck me. I was 6 at the time and it was a profound experience. I recognized early on, that I could not get away with such behavior but also that there were repercussions to such actions.

2) How do you build a respectful and ethical team?

Paramount to developing and sustaining a respectful and ethical team is to be very careful with your hiring practices, it is important to take your time. The characteristics of the individual are critical in the hiring process. It is not about hiring the smartest person, but the best person. The second page of the resume is a great start to unveiling the character of the applicant. The first page is about WHAT he/she has done, the second page reveals WHO he/she is. If I were to make a recommendation, spend time flushing out the second page of your resume (this includes developing interests outside of school, diversification of experience and engagement in the community). FirstEnergy takes time in our hiring process because we appreciate, building a strong team starts with hiring the right people.

3) How do you inspire and value the people around you?

It is important for team members to appreciate how their contributions add relevance to the firm, so they understand their impact on the firm’s success. For example our accountants traditionally crunch numbers but when I ask them for a particular set of numbers they are able to take a request and determine what figures they should extract in way that forces them to see what the figures mean to our business. It is about feeling engaged in the business and valued for their specific contribution.
Also, FirstEnergy executives do not have offices, we are divided by departments and I personally sit amongst the sales and trading team, not only to have a pulse on the business but this facilitates a very approachable style that encourages conversation with any employee throughout the day. I try to make myself available and approachable. We have very long days, often followed by post work engagements. I project what I hope others will follow. Suffice it to say; I have more than an open door policy. In addition to an open area workspace, I often walk around the office as it allows me to get a pulse of the day.
Reference for students: This effective strategy is from the book The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard

4) What can we, as young people, do to ensure our success even during times of economic uncertainty?

In two words nothing replaces HARD WORK.
Everyone says it, few practice it.
Also, find a way to differentiate yourself to employers. As suggested previously, beef up the second page of your resume. Work towards meaningful contributions in charitable work, personal accomplishments, awards, athletics, ongoing learning, try to create something that gives the employer “pause for thought”.
Before you can be a stand out to an employer, you need to become an employee, which means you need to be hired and to be hired you need tosecure an interview. – So differentiate yourself from the pack.
Reference for students: Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes in his bestseller book Outliers; it is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, which represents the amount of time he believes is required to achieve world class expertise in any skill.

5) What is the greatest advice you have ever received from a mentor?

I was fortunate to have Al Markin the former Chairman of CNRL act as my mentor. He did not provide a single piece of advice but rather gave me his time to educate me about the in’s and out’s of the oil and gas industry. He invested time with the expectation that I would go home and do my homework to expand my knowledge of the industry. I had to be respectful of his time and knowledge and there was an expectation to work hard and progress.
This foundation of hard work and continued learning has remained a core value of my work ethic throughout my career.
Reference for students: Allan gave me the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, a tool as relevant today as it was when it was published.

6) Describe an ethical dilemma you have faced – what was your course of action?

Working in the financial services industry we are governed by a regulatory body but even with this strong governance, we are privy to information that is not available in the public domain. If we were to act on this confidential information there is the opportunity for substantial economic gain. Everyday, we must resist any temptation to deviate from our personal core values and the guiding principles of our business.

7) What is the one piece of advice you have for youth and our next generation of leaders?

It is acceptable to and often desirable to deviate off the standard path. In the energy industry the convenient or conventional ways of thinking may not ultimately be the right decision. Great leaders are able to adjust their conventional wisdom to adapt to the situation. These adjustments are in fact a result of our ability to use our intuition or gut instinct based on our prior knowledge, experience, insight and learning’s from a broad array of life experiences to evaluate information and make a decision.

8) How can we strengthen entrepreneurship in Canada?

Our next generation of leaders will also be our next generation of entrepreneurs.
To succeed, entrepreneurs will take on risk including varying degrees of fiscal risk. With this inherent risk, our government needs to support a Canadian taxation structure that allows for an associated risk based reward structure. This will help ensure entrepreneurs are provided with a fair return for their efforts. Otherwise these personalities are most apt to redirect their efforts elsewhere, whether that is in other fields or by working in other jurisdictions especially considering the evolution and expansion of a global online economy.
As suggested previously, entrepreneurs and leaders cannot always follow conventional wisdom and instead use their gut instinct. We need to ensure we create and foster the conditions and an environment that will encourage and support innovation and entrenuership.
As a nation we also need to ensure our educational system fosters a generation of independent thinkers whom are both intellectually and emotionally intelligent. In addition we don’t expect you to be politically active, but we do hope that you are politically aware.

9) How do we keep ahead of the curve in a global market?

Our Canadian government and its citizens need to recognize we remain a resource-based economy and to remain competitive with the global economy we must do what we are good at. A significant portion of our GDP is based on energy and mining so we need to play to our strengths. While focusing on our core strengths we can continue to stay ahead of the curve by improving our processes and sharing best practices and our technical advancements with the rest of the world. For example, the energy industry has developed many technological advancements that are being utilized throughout the global energy sector but many of these technologies are also transferable to other sectors thus creating a strong multiplier effect on each patent or discovery.

10) What was your biggest career mistake and what did you learn from it?

Careers evolve, their direction driven by recognizing and seizing an opportunity. I graduated from the University of Waterloo in Environment Studies intending on becoming a teacher, an opportunity to work as a broker changed my career direction.
Overall, I have had a fortunate career void of any concrete so called “big mistakes”, that said, there has certainly been some “missed opportunity” as a result of ideas or business that we did not pursue that in retrospect would have been quite successful. Also, FirstEnergy is structured to minimize mistakes, from the onset of the firm we have worked collaboratively engaging with the Executive, our Managing Directors and various team members prior to making significant decisions. We all play a role in evaluating the risk and the opportunity and our extensive engagement and discussion enables open dialogue and minimizes mistakes as a result of careful consideration prior to any major decision.

11) What do students need to know regarding ethics when using social media?

Everyone using any form of online engagement needs to be very careful of what they say. I recommend that you always hit the imaginary “PAUSE” button BEFORE you actually hit SEND. A simple rule to follow is: if you won’t say the same thing about a person when they are standing right in front of you, don’t say it online!

12) What are the hallmarks of people you have worked with that have a lot of integrity?

Individuals with integrity do what they say they are going to do. They also have empathy and understand the ramifications of their actions. We all have the opportunity to live by a guiding principle of integrity, demonstrated by working towards a smart and caring nation. If we have integrity as a core value and believe everyone can succeed, contribute, and develop their talents to their full potential, we will do what is not only right for an individual, but for many. This however, does not mean you cannot be tough. That you can’t grind a little to get a better deal for yourself and for your company. Even tough negotiations can have integrity.