Looking at Paul Taylor’s career, it’s clear the man is not interested in easy jobs. He managed 9,500 volunteers for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, worked in the Alberta treasury during Ralph Klein’s budget-balancing shakeups and held an executive job with Alberta power giant TransAlta Corp.
He moved to B.C. in 2000 and was scooped up the next year by the newborn Campbell government. As deputy minister of finance, Taylor was smack in the middle of the mammoth task of balancing B.C.’s budget, before taking on perhaps the most thankless job in the province: president and CEO of ICBC.
In what he insists was merely a case of unfortunate timing, Taylor left ICBC in the midst of a controversy. In March an ICBC investigation found that, since 1998, almost 100 vehicles from a Burnaby facility had been sold without proper historical disclosure, with some vehicles going to ICBC staff. Taylor announced he was leaving for the private sector a few weeks later.He is now president of NaiKun Wind Group Inc. (NKW) an independent power producer with plans to build a massive wind farm in B.C.’s Hecate Strait. The new role pits him against naysayers who opine that offshore wind farms will never prove economical in B.C., as well as bird lovers and crab fishermen who worry about potential environmental hazards. According to Taylor, the move from ICBC follows the pattern of his life: he was simply looking for the next challenge.When you started at ICBC, what were you hoping to achieve? There were lots of people who felt I was sent there to privatize the organization and effectively break it up and do a bunch of things to it. But really my goal was to ensure that it was ready for the full onset of competition in the optional insurance business, and to make sure the organization improved its customer focus.
ICBC was in a tough spot when you moved to your current job. You’ve been clear in the past that your decision to leave was not based on that situation, but have the optics been a problem for you?No. Not at all.
What convinced you to join NaiKun?It’s actually opportune that today [June 11] is the day the province put out its call to buy 5,000 gigawatt hours of clean and renewable energy. NaiKun is uniquely positioned to be a participant in that power call and contribute to solving the challenge that the province has in meeting its energy needs.It sounds like quite a difference from ICBC. What was it about the job that appealed to you?It’s always interesting to be at the forefront of change. As change happens, there’s an opportunity to be part of that, and it can be pretty dynamic. And I see NaiKun at the forefront of the global move to more renewable energy. It’s been a well-embedded legacy of British Columbia that we’ve had renewable energy, and this is just taking it to the next level.
Has there been a big difference working for a smaller entrepreneurial firm rather than something like ICBC or the Ministry of Finance?Well, they’re all different. The thing about an organization like ICBC, where you have 5,000 people, is that a big part of what you do is focused on human resources and leadership issues. In an organization like NaiKun, you don’t need to send an email out to communicate with the team; you can get everyone together in a boardroom or you just walk down to the coffee machine. You might find in a large organization that the separation between the CEO’s office and the front line is pretty significant. We’ve been hearing about the NaiKun plan for years. Where does the project stand now?A critical piece for us is the decision by the province to use renewable energy to meet the provincial energy requirements, and an important part of that is the clean energy call. Overall, our project is about 1,750 megawatts. Phase 1 is about 300 megawatts – and that’s what we will be looking to bid for at this stage of the clean energy call.So what is your responsibility? What is on your plate these days?An important part is making sure that we have the most competitive bid that we can put together for the clean power call – it’s a pretty singular focus. And there are a variety of secondary issues that go along with that. The technology itself is quite proven, for instance, and has been very successful in Europe – but bringing it into North America, and being the first off-shore wind project, does present some challenges. We need to get our head around that. And the Hecate Strait is very unique in itself, and we need to make sure that we’ve looked at all the technical issues that relate to that area.
The private energy sector has attracted some strong public opposition recently. As president of one of the major projects in B.C., you could potentially be front and centre of that debate. Do you see that being a part of your job?Absolutely. Part of our job is to talk about the benefits of what we offer in our proposal. Our view is that we have the right technology, we have the right location and we’ve done many of the right things in establishing strong relationships with communities and with First Nations in explaining what we’re trying to accomplish. My view is you can’t be for green energy and renewables and be against wind farms, and in particular this project.You’ve changed jobs a couple of times so far this decade. Is this one going to be more permanent?There are five phases of this project, and at this point in my career I see enough to keep me excited and busy for a long time.
What is it that gets you to think that maybe it’s time to try something new?Well, it’s usually the notion of being involved in something that’s going through a significant period of change or transition. So you look at balancing budgets and rebuilding economies – those are opportunities that only come along once in a while and it requires significant amounts of new thinking; that appeals to me. Or something like ICBC, where it’s heading into a much more competitive environment and you have to position your organization to be successful. Or NaiKun – doing something that hasn’t been done before in Canada.