Dawn Farrell is President and Chief Executive Officer of TransAlta Corporation. She’s also a director of TransAlta Corporation, a director of The Chemours Company, and a member of the Trilateral Commission, while sitting on the boards of The Conference Board of Canada, the Business Council of Canada and is a member of The Canada-
U.S. Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. In short, Dawn was made to lead, and has found her home at the helm of Canada’s electric energy industry.
To me, being a leader means… Doing what’s right, but often unpopular. Some things that are right are popular — anyone can lead that party. It’s the difficult decisions — the ones that mean change and discomfort — that require real leadership. It’s taking people across unchartered terrain and then, when they get there, convincing them that it was their idea all along.
My boldest move to date was… To cut our dividend after the release of the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan in late 2015. Most people would have waited to see what was going to happen. I wanted to build cash and be prepared for the worst. The worst didn’t happen, and we were able to change our strategy to adapt to the time. Acting quickly and decisively, without knowing all the facts about the future, gave us more flexibility in acting on what the future could bring. It was bold because utilities typically pay high dividends, and we are now counter to our peers and advancing a strategy that is independent of the status quo. It will be the move that allows the company to thrive in any environment.
I stay inspired by… The privilege of waking up every day and doing what I love — which is running a big corporation. This is a time in my life where I am doing exactly what I love to do. It will be gone before I know it, and it will never be again. So I never overlook what a privilege it is to be able to serve our company while doing what I love. I don’t take it for granted. It’s not an entitlement.
I chose my career path because… I didn’t really choose my career path — it chose me. I set out to be an economist — I didn’t really know anything about power. I got lucky in my first job and fell in love with the industry because of its complexity and because it’s all about economics. Then I worked my butt off so I could get the interesting work. And one thing lead to another and before I knew it, the interesting work was in leadership. My passion is still economics, but leadership is a close second, because without it, nothing goes well.
My proudest accomplishment is… Being able to lead a company and stay married and stay connected to my family. I think I’ve been a pathfinder for women because I’d never give up one for the other and I’ve managed well across both parts of my life.
My best advice to people starting their career is… To work two years for every one of your first five years. Then you’ll have 10 years of experience behind you when and if you decide to start a family. Plus, you’ll need money in the bank to draw on.
My biggest setback was… The Climate Leadership Plan policy, which the market perceived would shut down our coal plants and take the company into bankruptcy.
I overcame it by… Working with government, changing our strategy and adapting to the times. We also worked three years’ worth of hours in less than one year to get that done. It’s a good example that hard work, tenacity and not laying down can overcome what you think might kill you — sometimes!
Work/life balance is… A farce! If you want to do the tough work, you have to lose the idea of balance and just go for it on all sides. As long as you exercise, eat right and get enough sleep, you can be a CEO, mother, wife, grandmother, daughter, sister and friend. You just can’t do it all in a single day.
The future excites me because… Of all the change ahead. And the great young people who are really making a difference. I just hope they find some time to put down their phones and do the real work in relationships that is needed if they are going to be successful over a lifetime.
On December 13, meet Dawn and hear her speak about the skills, knowledge, and bold moves that have brought her to the very top of her industry – and how she’s bringing other women along for the ride. Join the Women of Influence Luncheon Series season finale in Toronto “Women Investing in Women – How one of Canada’s Top CEOs is Driving the Future for Female Entrepreneurs.” Tickets available now!