Janice McMichael-Dennis, the CEO and president of Bluewater Power, is known for her ability to quickly work numbers and explain business cases, not for divulging personal details.
Like the time as a kid she announced to a friend’s father she planned to be a CEO.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he laughed. “You’re a girl. You can’t be a CEO.”
Or when she wrote her MBA admittance exam and scored in the top 1% of North America. The Ivy League schools came knocking but she chose Western, to be close to family in Sarnia.
As one of the few women at the helm of a large company in Sarnia, McMichael-Dennis was invited to deliver the keynote address at the most recent Enbridge Famous 5 speaker series.
The series features female leaders who share their stories to inspire other women to excel.
“I truly have the best job ever,” McMichael-Dennis said. “I get to be one of a small handful of female CEOs in a sector dominated by males. And I get to live in my hometown.”
McMichael-Dennis, a married mother of two, earned an economics degree before completing a Master of Business Administration with a major in finance.
After school, she was hired immediately by Union Gas and worked 10 years at various roles in Chatham.
When the former Sarnia Hydro offered her a leadership position, she jumped at the opportunity to come home.
In 2000, Sarnia Hydro morphed into Bluewater Power. Four years later, at the age of 36, McMichael-Dennis became its CEO and president, with a staff of 75.
Since then, the staff has doubled and Bluewater Power has acquired or developed five new companies, including Bluewater Regional Networks, which is positioned to begin providing high speed Internet service this summer.
Since McMichael-Dennis joined the utility, its net income has grown 10-fold and it has paid out nearly $35 million to member municipalities over the past decade.
“That’s something we’re very proud of. We knew we had to grow the company,” she said.
Her presentation focused on Bluewater Power employees, a group of people who she said goes above and beyond, even in times of challenge.
“I firmly believe that if you treat people better than they expect, you’ll get back more.”
But nothing is ever perfect.
When lineman Mike Leach died on the job in 2012 during the cleanup from Hurricane Sandy, “it was that day that collectively brought us to our knees.
“I certainly crumbled,” she said. “But then you make a decision because everybody’s counting on you. You can either stay crumbled or get up and honour Mike’s memory.”
As she and her team worked through the loss of a highly esteemed colleague, they had to deal with the reality that thousands of customers were still without electricity.
McMichael-Dennis offered to bring in workers from outside utilities, but her own employees wanted to finish the job.
“Everyone pulled together,” she said. “We did everything we could to support the (Leach) family; we got through the legal stuff with dignity and grace, and then we made sure we used this tragedy to remind others of the dangers of the trade.
“It’s what Mike would have wanted. I’m proud of the fact we toughed it out and made (his death) matter.”
McMichael-Dennis said through good times and bad she relies on four tenets to guide her at work and life: family first; kindness matters; respect always, and to be happy.
About 100 people heard her presentation at the Holiday Inn.
On May 27, McMichael-Dennis won the Business Leadership Award at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Outstanding Business Awards.
The next in the Enbridge Famous 5 series takes place Sept. 29.