Navigating the Waters

Although he started as an accountant, Dave Bezanson is now the vice president of finance at Emera Energy, where he’s helping lead the energy services company in shedding its sleepy company image

Compared to the popularity of start-ups and tech companies today, traditional utility companies may not seem like the most exciting places to work. At least, that’s what Dave Bezanson thought before he began working at Emera Inc., an international energy and services company based in Nova Scotia.

“Within three months, I realized it was far from a sleepy utility,” Bezanson says. “Right now, energy is probably one of the most fascinating industries in the world.”

“Right now, energy is probably one of the most fascinating industries in the world.”

Bezanson has worked with Emera since 2009, first as a corporate controller—handling accounting and reporting issues—and now as the vice president of finance at Emera Energy, a subsidiary of Emera that provides marketing, trading, and asset management services to energy customers in the northeastern regions of Canada and the United States.

Although he says a large part of his job right now involves risk management, Bezanson started his career as a chartered accountant after graduating from Acadia University with his bachelor of business administration degree. Early in his career, Bezanson decided to shake things up with a three-year stint working with the Public Service Pensions Board in the Cayman Islands. There, he got his first taste for leadership—something he would continue to seek throughout his career.

BEAR NECESSITIES

Bezanson helped refinance Emera’s Bear Swamp asset, a six-hundred megawatt, pumped-storage hydro-electric generating facility located on the Deerfield River in northern Massachusetts. He says it was his first big financing role at Emera, as much of his work to that point had focused on controllership and accounting. A bonus was touring Bear Swamp and learning how pump storage systems work: essentially, water flows down a hillside from a lake, which generates hydroelectric power. At night, water is pumped back up to the lake, and the process repeats. “A pump storage facility is like a big battery,” Bezanson says. “For an accountant from a small town, that was the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen.”

However, Bezanson credits his time at audit, tax, and advisory firm KPMG for building the foundation of his career. He worked with KPMG before and after his time in the Caymans, building contacts, experience, and skills.

For Bezanson, joining the small Emera team in 2009 was like being dropped into the deep end of the pool. As corporate controller, he was faced with integrating numerous acquisitions for the fast-growing company, including five merchant power plants, four utilities, and two significant equity investments. At the same time, he worked on the Maritime Link Project, a renewable energy initiative connecting Nova Scotia with Newfoundland and Labrador.

After a few years, the vice president of finance position opened up at Emera Energy. Bezanson jumped at the chance. “It gave me the opportunity to be more operationally focused,” he says.

His current role is multifaceted, allowing him to work on both the many complex transactions that come across his desk and play an important role in executive decisions. Not only does this keep things interesting; it gives him a bit of the taste of leadership he first experienced in the Cayman Islands.

“Everything is very much hands-on for all executives,” Bezanson says. “We get to partake in all decisions.”

One of Bezanson’s biggest projects involved updating the company’s strategic plan. He was approached to lead the project by the company president in part due to his chartered accountant background. Taking a team-based approach, Bezanson says he helped create a vision and a plan to help the company navigate the ever-changing energy industry—an important move due to changes in the industry in the past few years.

“It was putting more sophistication around the long-range planning process for our business, which is young,” Bezanson says. “We wanted a process in which the people in our business really owned the strategy.”

Emera Energy’s newly refined plan kicked into gear last winter, and Bezanson now ensures the plan gains momentum while also analyzing how the plan affects the company’s bottom line. Bezanson just finished the installation of new risk management software, which will improve the interface between employees throughout the office.

Bezanson is confident that utilities like Emera will continue to shed their “sleepy company” image with renewable resources that increase in sophistication and cause a shift in the industry.

“Changing technologies, changing environmental regulations, and changing market dynamics such as natural gas supply and pricing, make this a very dynamic and ever-evolving industry,” Bezanson says.