Global Woman of Vision: Pat Bourne
This powerful businesswoman climbed the ranks from board secretary to CEO while helping build an electricity co-operative that puts members first.
February 11, 2017
photography by Fred Katz Photography
There aren’t many people who can say they were a company’s very first employee, and even fewer who can say they’ve remained with the same company for over 20 years — but Patricia Bourne can.
When Bourne was in her 30s, she and her husband were invited to go to an REA conference in Edmonton. They went, and Bourne was immediately struck by the members. “It kind of just grabbed me. There was something about the movement and the farmers,” says Bourne. “They actually put the poles and the wires in the ground, and they were so passionate.” Shortly after attending the conference, Bourne’s husband was asked to sit on the local board of directors, and Bourne was eventually asked to serve as secretary of the board. “I was the only employee,” Bourne says, although she was working closely with the secretary for an adjoining REA to learn the ropes. “There was lots of very vibrant discussion about where we needed to go in the future, and I was so fortunate to be able to be a part of that. I loved it, I thrived on it.”
Though Bourne had initially taken on the role as something part-time, within six months, the board was looking for a manager, and Bourne’s mentor suggested she apply — and she got the promotion. The employee count began to grow steadily, and when 16 REAs were amalgamated into EQUS, and Bourne became the CEO.
EQUS’ role is to distribute power to rural Alberta, for both commercial and residential purposes, and they’re in competition with another service provider, Fortis, for customers. While cities like Edmonton and Calgary have a monopoly on service providers, rural Albertans have a choice — and many choose EQUS, simply because of the firm’s values and way of doing business. “I’ve built some really great relationships with our members. Some of our members that started coming to the first annual general meeting are still coming and this will be our 25th,” says Bourne.
“They [Fortis] have a lot more resources than we do,” says Bourne. “One of the things that obviously works for us is the people. We care about the people. And the people care about us because we want to keep the money in the community.” While other companies’ larger resources and customer base may mean they can charge cheaper rates, again, it’s all about the people for Bourne. “We’re not always the lowest [rate],” says Bourne. “It’s not about that, it’s about building trust. And they know they can trust us, that we are here looking out for their best interests.”
EQUS continues to grow every year, and Bourne is quick to point out that they’re more than just a utility company. She frequently attends conferences on topics like energy efficiency and renewable energy, and the smaller, more grassroots nature of EQUS means they can adjust more easily and tackle any new challenge they face. “If a challenge is put to me, I don’t look at that as an obstacle. I look at that as a way for us to figure out a different way to do it,” says Bourne.