Dr. Geoffrey Ballard: A Knight Goes Into The Night

A few years ago, I was working with Dr. Geoffrey Ballard on a couple of books that would help explain why he was such a visionary with a magnificent obsession to make the world a better place.

Ballard, who is best known for starting Ballard Power Systems, which introduced a working fuel cell to the world, died recently at 75.

When we talked, we mostly discussed the operation of a science business that earned him these accolades. But we also talked about what made Ballard into a scientific rebel who went against established research methodology and created breakthrough, game-changing innovation.

Ballard was a dreamer who grew up as an only child with aging relatives in Southwestern Ontario. A lonely boy, he spent many hours wandering the fields, imagining himself as an ancient knight duty bound by God to make the world a better place.

It was a mental model he nurtured while performing routine oil exploration tasks around the world and which he held on to during subsequent attempts and failures at starting his own alternative energy companies.


Related: The Power Set

Ballard was a gentle soul who loved to talk to all and sundry about how science and society should work together. But he was was no tilter at windmills: he was a tough, driving man who dragged naysayers along the innovation curve when they (and even he) didn’t really know where they’d end up.

In his later years, much of the world forgot about Geoff Ballard’s dreams. Due to ill health, he had to retire from the company he started and, after a brief period as a stock market darling, it eventually crashed back to earth. Even Ballard’s automotive fuel cell division has now been sold off.

Our discussions became part of a book, Everything I needed to know about business…I learned from a Canadian, by local tech investors Leonard Brody and David Raffa Another book went nowhere. All the agents and publishers who were so interested in the visionary energy hero, had moved on to other trendy subjects.

But, while you might not yet see the results of his dreams in your everyday life, you will. In about 20 years, the old knight’s vision of a world without polluting internal combustion engines will become real.

And we’ll all be the better for it.