Crossroads: Dave Cobb

BC Hydro's new CEO, VANOC vet Dave Cobb, trades one tough post for another.

Dave Cobb worked for the Vancouver Canucks and VANOC before taking the job as BC Hydro’s new CEO.

BC Hydro’s new CEO, VANOC vet Dave Cobb, trades one tough post for another.

Dave Cobb is definitely not looking for easy jobs. In 2004 he left a seemingly safe position as COO of the consistently sold-out Canucks to be second in command at VANOC, managing arguably the most complex and controversial project the province has witnessed in a generation. And now, as the new CEO of BC Hydro, he’ll be at ground zero for a number of battles over B.C.’s energy future. Debates are steaming over a raft of issues: public versus private ownership of power generation, expanding power output versus conservation, whether building green-energy power plants is worth the related environmental damage, the nebulous line between energy self-sufficiency and energy exports, and the strong-arm tactics the provincial government is using to shape energy policy. Hopefully his time with the Canucks has taught this accountant how to take a few cross-checks.

You had a sweet job with the Canucks. What convinced you to move to VANOC?

Well, it wasn’t easy. As I was being recruited for the VANOC job, I had my dream job offered to me at the Canucks: the president’s job. It was a really difficult situation. Now, I would never complain about it, because I felt I could choose between two of the best jobs in the city, but there were a few days of not knowing what to do. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the Olympics was an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down.

Of course, the danger with a VANOC job is that it’s over so fast.

It is a factor because I’ve never been out of work, and all of a sudden I was leaving a very good, secure position for something you know is going to end. That is a mental challenge. It did take a bit to accept that and take a risk that, if things don’t go well, who knows what will happen? But sometimes you have to roll the dice.

Both the Olympics and BC Hydro have attracted a lot of controversy and debate. How do you deal with being in the middle of that?

It’s funny; that’s the first thing my mom said to me. I think she wishes I’d just stay in some quiet little job that nobody knows about. The Olympics are a bit of a lightning rod. Because of the spotlight it brings, you attract a lot of special-interest groups. And I don’t blame them for that, but it’s not easy waking up many mornings and reading about something in the newspaper that you’re getting criticized for that you really had nothing to do with. But that’s part of the deal. It’s a lot of years of developing that thick skin and believing in what you’re doing. I know I’m going to be in the middle of dealing with things at Hydro where you have very polarized views – and nobody’s necessarily wrong; it’s how people feel. But that’s part of what’s exciting for me, and it’s an important time now for Hydro to take a leadership position.

The provincial government seems to be setting the course on energy through legislation. What’s left for your team to decide on?

Obviously, we’re a Crown corporation, and our owner is the government of B.C. And I don’t view that as different from any other company. Every company has an owner, and an owner has the right to set the vision and the mandate and expectations on their management team. But I don’t think our shareholder expects us to blindly deliver on what government says; I think they expect us to be creative, thoughtful, to find out the best way to deliver government policy. So that part isn’t a concern for me at all. In fact, I think the new legislation that’s come out is a positive in the sense that it provides clarity. We’re entering into a time now that’s very different, and for me to come in as CEO at this point is even more exciting because it’s not just maintaining what is there; it’s potentially helping develop and grow a brand new clean-energy sector.

What is your vision for BC Hydro?

Well, the opinions I’m forming now are totally based on what other people are telling me and what other people have written. I need to have that first-hand experience before I form too many of my own opinions. But as an individual looking at what’s behind B.C.’s energy legislation, I would have a hard time disagreeing with what I see there: becoming energy self-sufficient and using clean energy.

But the contentious issues are things like whether it should be Hydro’s role to secure profits for private power producers or whether it’s right to develop untouched B.C. rivers to produce power for export. What’s Hydro’s role in settling those arguments?

Well, you’ve identified areas where certainly there’s going to be different opinions. And I think it’s too early for me to speak specifically on them, but I do think it’s important that we’re transparent. We’re owned by the people of this province, and if British Columbians don’t agree with what we do, I think it’s important that they at least understand why we’ve made the decisions we’ve made. But I’m going into this with my eyes wide open. I know there are very strong opinions on both sides, and I’ll have to roll up my sleeves and really dig into that in a hurry because this is a big company and it’s operating and it’s not going to wait for me to figure things out.