CEO Profile: Nancy Southern

Canada’s top 500 CEOs

CEO #70: Nancy Southern

Financial Post Magazine November 04, 2008

It’s hard to pinpoint what, exactly, Calgary-based Atco Group does. CEO Nancy Southern simply calls it “a diverse conglomerate.” It’s a company of companies, with its hands in power generation, utilities, energy services, infrastructure and manufacturing. Over the past year, the conditions that battered profits in one sector – an increase in regulations from the Alberta Utilities Commission, for instance – were balanced by the province’s $3-billion infrastructure push. The result? Atco’s best-ever year: 2007 revenue was $2.9 billion, compared to $2.8 billion 2006.

Southern, who made this year’s Financial Post Magazine CEO Scorecard twice for her dual roles as CEO of Atco and its subsidiary Canadian Utilities Ltd., has been head of the business her father founded since 2003. “Running the various divisions takes a lot of time,” she says, “but I have a tremendously patient team around me.” Her father, Ron Southern, has stayed on as the company’s chairman. “Atco has a very experienced management team,” Macquarie Capital Markets Canada analyst Matthew Akman says, “as well as a long track record of paying and growing dividends, which makes it attractive in tumultuous stock markets.”

Not content with her sprawling empire, Southern recently announced the birth of yet another subsidiary: Atco Water, which will build and operate water treatment facilities, in competition with Epcor Utilities Inc. It’s hard to guess what will come next, since Southern and her company are notorious for avoiding the spotlight. “I like to keep a low profile,” she admits, which Macquarie’s Akman says is frustrating. “I wish they would communicate with their shareholders more often,” he says, “because they have a good story to tell.”

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