20 questions with Stan Marshall

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Stan Marshall is retiring as president and CEO of Fortis Inc., with the transition to new leadership to be complete by the end of the year.

Stan Marshall has overseen the rise of Fortis into a major international company. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

It will be a landmark change for the company and for Marshall, whose name has become synonymous with Fortis after 35 years of service.

He has been at the helm as CEO of the company for nearly 20 years, since 1996. During his tenure, it has grown from a single utility to a powerhouse conglomerate — now reaching across Canada, into the United States and throughout the Caribbean.

Fortis utilities, including Newfoundland Power, now serve more than 2.4 million customers, and Fortis employs more than 10,000 people through its power utilities and other lines of business. That business includes Fortis Properties and the management of hotels and commercial real estate across Canada, including prime real estate in downtown St. John’s.

Marshall recently sat in a company building, in his corner office on the top floor of the Fortis Building on Water Street in St. John’s, for 20 Questions with The Telegram.

Asked why he has decided to pass on the keys to his kingdom, he said he is set to turn 64, the company is clewing up its second utility acquisition in the United States and he has a successor in place in current vice-president of finance and CFO, Barry Perry.

“For me, the maximum I could have stayed on is another two or three years. Right now, the company’s in great shape,” he said. “(So) why not? Go out at the top of your game.”

Fortis’s total assets have grown from about $1 billion to $18.6 billion under Marshall’s reign. However, he said, it was not a smooth rise and there were regular mountains to climb on the road from point A to point B.

“You don’t grow the way we have without every few years just encountering brutal situations,” he said.

Getting through meant punching long hours, taking many flights and working to maintain a deep understanding of operations, people and industry.

“Opportunity and challenge are the opposite sides of the same coin,” he said.

He recalled how the government of Prince Edward Island looked to take over Maritime Electric. Fortis owned a fraction of that company at the time and Marshall offered an alternative, with Fortis gaining all of Maritime Electric at the end of the day.

As for the future, Marshall said he is retiring from Fortis, but has other business interests. He is still trying to settle on what comes next.

“I’ve been so busy, in fact, that I haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and say this is what I’d like to do for the rest of my life,” he said. “By the time Jan. 1 comes, knowing me, I’ll have it all sorted out. But I’m not stopping.”

 

 

What is your full name?

Herbert Stanley Marshall.

 

Where and when were you born?

In the Grace Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland. June 1950.

 

Where is home for you today?

Topsail.

 

What is your most treasured possession?

That’s a good question. ... I don’t value possessions like that. I value people.

 

What would you do if you won the lottery?

I don’t play the lottery. Hardly ever. Can’t remember the last time I did.

 

Who is one person, living or deceased, you’d love to have lunch with?

My wife (Senator Elizabeth Marshall). I hardly ever see her. One time we went to a dinner and someone said, “Please sit next to somebody you don’t normally see,” and Beth said, “I’d better sit next to you.” The two of us have had very demanding careers over time. So you know, I get an opportunity, I pick my wife.

 

What’s your favourite article of clothing?

A pair of sandals. That’s what I wear when I’m down in Belize.

 

What is your favourite place in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Topsail. The thing about it — I do an awful lot of travel. In April I was in this office one day during the week and one day during a weekend.

So I like to get home, get some peace and quiet. It’s a refuge for me. I can go to New York one day, in my backyard the next.

 

Out of curiosity, what do you do with all the Air Miles?

Usually give them to my kids, so I can see them once in a while. They’re spread out all over the place.

 

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the province in the next five to 10 years?

I think, politically, it has to mature. I thought we’d be there by now.

 

Anything specific to that?

As a business person, I’d like to see more entrepreneurship, more respect for business, more younger people seeing that as their career path, so more can be done in Newfoundland. One thing I’m proud of is that we’ve kept Fortis here. It dominates the landscape in the business community and it’s great opportunity for young people. So I’d like to see a change in the culture, so we stop relying on government more, rely on private enterprise more and that more people would pursue that and create great wealth here and great opportunity for our people. ... That’s a big challenge for us. You know, we’ve always been relying too much on government. Governments have not done a good job, in my view. So as we go forward, I’d like to see more private enterprise and less reliance on government.

 

What was your first job?

My first job was a summer job, pick and shovel, helping to repair the roads in Freshwater-Carbonear.

 

Did you enjoy it?

I looked forward to the concept of going to work and getting paid for it. I had worked since I remember, but was not getting paid. So the great advantage of that job is I was getting paid.

 

What did you do with your first paycheque?

No idea.

 

Warren Buffett said, “I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think.” Did you ever get that kind of time?

I’ve got a lot of time on planes. But usually I’m so tired by the end of the day, I start to doze. … The best time I’ve had to think is always in my garden. I have a good garden in Topsail. I have another tropical garden in Belize. I’ve always sort of pictured myself as the mafia don when I retire — out pruning my roses. It may not be roses, it may be out digging potatoes.

What was your toughest challenge while at Fortis?

One of the toughest is when we acquired what is now Fortis Alberta and Fortis BC. It was very big compared to what we were at the time and we were facing competition from some major Canadian players, and the financial community was saying I paid way too much and this was going to be a boondoggle and I didn’t know what I was doing. And I had to raise money at the same time. I had to raise over a million dollars and (was) beating the streets. That was a tough time. But that’s only one of many.

 

Have you thought about running for political office?

Never. My wife does that. I could never be a politician.

 

Any particular reason why not?

A couple of reasons. I think to be a good politician, you’ve got to have tremendous empathy for everybody. I’m hard-nosed, analytical, love the people around me, work with them, but don’t have the patience.

 

Is it possible to have friends in business?

Yes. I think, though, that you’ve got to be careful. In business, absolutely, but the big difference between being

No. 1 and in any other position at the company is you don’t have friends, a lot of friends. You deal with colleagues, but being No. 1’s a tough job and you’ve got to maintain great objectivity. It can be very difficult. I think the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my career was to replace a person who has served me well, (a) very loyal, hardworking guy, but we outgrew. We were going so fast. And this has been a challenge throughout the career. We had very rapid growth. Some people get left behind. They reach the limits of their ability. And that’s the hardest thing I ever had to do, because you have to replace them. You need to move forward.

 

I think that would speak to this question then: do you have any regrets?

When you end up where you want to be, you can’t say I would go back and change anything. Because it might change the whole scenario. ... I’m in a very good space. I’m very happy where I am. That being the case, I have no regrets.

Organizations: Newfoundland Power, Maritime Electric, Fortis Building Grace Hospital Air Miles

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Caribbean Newfoundland and Labrador Water Street Prince Edward Island Belize.What New York Topsail Belize Fortis BC

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