Movers & Shakers 2010: John Simpson, president and CEO of CANA

Shake hands with a leader intent on making things happen

John Simpson, president and CEO of the CANA Group of Companies, is a man of action.

"I'm just interested in the deal of the day," he says. "What can you do to make something happen?" As a result he's made a lot happen, most recently the acquisition of High Time Industries (HTI). The company does engineering, procurement, construction, testing and commissioning and maintenance of high-voltage electrical facilities, complementing the transmission and distribution work that ACE Construction Company Ltd., a CANA company, has been doing for 23 years.

In a time of decreased merger and acquisition activity, Simpson jumped when HTI came up for sale. "Companies like this, privately owned, don't come up for sale all that often," he says. "I think it's called 'opportunity.'"

With an almost exclusive focus on Alberta, CANA has to watch the market carefully and respond in-house so it is prepared to build what's needed within the province. With HTI handling projects inside the chain-link fence that surrounds substations and ACE doing the work outside the fence, CANA is perfectly positioned for coming infrastructure work.

Simpson's desire to make things happen, combined with a strong competitive streak, helped him when he was thrust into a leadership position. Although he worked for his father's construction company as a young man, his real love was show jumping. He spent 10 years with the Canadian Equestrian Team, representing Canada in the Summer Olympic Games and Pan American Games.

But in 1984, after just two years working under his father, Simpson found himself at the helm when his father died. "I was a member of the board. I was 35. I thought I knew just about everything in the world," Simpson recounts. "About three weeks in, I found out I was wrong."

Simpson relied on the knowledge and support of his team and credits their assistance for helping him get through a challenging time. He continues to place a high value on people, implementing training and mentoring programs that have played a role in being named one of Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies multiple times. In fact, in 2008, it became a platinum member of Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies.

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