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UBC student spends a day with BC Hydro's CEO

CEO for a Day Elshen Ebadi with BC Hydro President and CEO Chris O'Riley
Elshen sits down for a chat with Chris.

Fourth-year university student Elshen Ebadi recently shadowed BC Hydro President and CEO Chris O'Riley for the day to gain career insights, leadership development, and networking opportunities. Ebadi's background in integrated science allowed him to quickly grasp new knowledge, skillfully make new connections, and steadily climb his way to the top... of the building stairs at BC Hydro's Dunsmuir headquarters.

Lessons and insights from CEO for a Day mentoring program

Elshen Ebadi is no stranger to complexity. A fourth-year student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), he has a passion for understanding people and organizations, which inspired the direction of his degree in neurogenetics. Working alongside our CEO O'Riley for a day in early March, Ebadi flexed his love of learning to gain a new appreciation for the breadth and depth of all that goes on at BC Hydro.

Sponsored by global leadership advisory firm Odgers Berndtson, the CEOx1Day program gives promising future leaders the opportunity to spend a mentorship day with one of Canada's top CEOs. Ebadi is one of 32 finalists from across the country who were selected for their positive community contributions, growing leadership capabilities and academic excellence.

'To understand a business, understand the people'

Receiving a Beedie Luminaries Scholarship program changed Ebadi's life path by providing him with a mentor in his field and offering $44,000 for tuition in a full-ride scholarship. In turn, Ebadi wants to support businesses with a strong social conscience to help them give back to people and communities. To complement his studies, Ebadi belongs to 180 Degree Consulting, an extracurricular club at UBC that does pro-bono consulting to help community organizations solve their toughest business problems.

"To really understand a business, it's important to understand the people," says Ebadi. "My neurogenetics degree gives me the unique perspective of understanding the biomechanical basis of what makes someone themselves. That gives me the confidence to approach a lot of problems from a human-oriented perspective, which I feel can get lost in the professional world."

CEO for a Day Elshen Ebadi with BC Hydro spokesperson Dave
Dave and Elshen hatch plans for great social media content.

Action-packed day for a student

As the day's agenda unfolded, Ebadi found himself attending an executive team meeting, touring BC Hydro's energy marketing subsidiary Powerex, visiting a BC Hydro call centre, and making videos with BC Hydro spokespersons Dave and Jaclyn. He also squeezed in one-on-one meetings with O'Riley and other executive team members.

And then came the unexpected. Ebadi got to experience an unplanned fire evacuation at the Dunsmuir office, complete with a 15-storey climb back up the building stairs after the all-clear to avoid waiting for the elevators.

"Chris didn't break a sweat," Ebadi says with a laugh.

Ebadi's Q & A chat with O'Riley

As CEO for a day, naturally Ebadi wanted to ask O'Riley a few questions about himself, his role and the future of energy for B.C. Here's their conversation.

Ebadi (EE): One burning question I have is, what time do you wake up in the morning?

O'Riley (CO): I'm a morning person, so I usually get up at five.

EE: What are the key factors that give you that perfect morning to really kickstart your day?

CO: Well, today I rode my bike in, which is the first time I've done that this year. I start around this time each year and try to ride into the late fall. I burn a lot of energy and see the sun coming up as I ride along the beach. It's a really wonderful way to start the day and end the day too.

EE: What makes you feel productive, being CEO?

CO: I feel productive when we're moving forward and making progress. We deal with a lot of hard problems here, but if you can recognize the progress, even a really big problem seems more surmountable. What energizes me is seeing that progress and seeing things moving forward. And if we're not moving forward, we try another path to find a way around.

EE: When I think about the future, the most inspiring thing I see is that so many people are trying. With the climate crisis going on, with a war going on, with inflation going on, people are trying to make ends meet while still trying to make the world a better place.

People aren't giving up, which is very optimistic. But it can also be stressful. How do you cope with the stress and demands of your job?

CO: I agree with you. I'm constantly inspired by the dedication to creating a better world. When it comes to managing stress, I try to find balance in my life, and that includes making it home in time for dinner. That's always the advice I give to people: it's great to have a stopping point in the day. Or, if you're working from home, close your laptop and go have dinner with your family. I try to take time on weekends and during the summer to spend time together as a family. That's an important part of balance for me.

I also believe in exercise and spend a lot of time exercising. My wife and I cycle a lot and try and do active things with our kids. To me, exercise is an important part of living well, managing stress and avoiding burnout.

EE: Who is an influential figure in your life that changed the overall trajectory of where you were at that time?

CO: That's a really good question. I'd have to say my father. He picked up my family in his early 40s when I was seven and moved us across the country, so that literally changed the trajectory of our lives, and I think for the better.

He was also a big believer in education and insisted that my three sisters and I all go to UBC. He felt that was such an important investment in the next generation. He always emphasized education, and that was hugely beneficial for me, so I try to pass on the benefits of education to others. Invest in yourself.

EE: Speaking of investing in the next generation, what energy innovation do you think will have the biggest impact on the province?

CO: There's been a huge development in the cost and output of renewable resources like wind and solar. It's profoundly changing how power grids are operated, and that is a resource we can draw on here in B.C. It's also a good complement to our hydro system, which is powered by water, as we like to say.

Together, those renewable resources are critical to allowing us to decarbonize energy systems here and throughout the world. Electrification is such a big part of climate action and of meeting the climate targets that we absolutely have to meet, so I think renewable resources represent the future.

EE: What's your favourite thing about BC Hydro? What's made you stay all these years?

CO: I've always felt there was a good fit between my values and the values of the company. Another way of saying that is, "it's the people who embody our values," so it's really all about the people. Our employees are very smart, committed, capable people who relish problem solving and do great work, and that's energizing to be around. I tend to work in the office mostly because I like being around people. And I really enjoy opportunities to work on projects and collaborate.

I also value the public service role we have, and the fact that we're in this together with our customers. They own the place through government and we're here to provide a critical service. This gets reinforced again and again when we manage through extreme weather events like storms, fires, heat and floods. Our customers are so appreciative of the results. The value of our service makes me feel good about working here and is why I've always wanted to stay.

EE: And I heard you have one last question for me?

CO: Yes, I want to hear about how your day has been. What's your experience been like at BC Hydro?

EE: My experience has been very dynamic. With BC Hydro being my utility company, I never expected all this work to be going on behind the scenes with so many people supporting the system that I depend on.

It was so interesting to attend the executive team meeting, to go to Powerex, and to visit the call centre. It's shown me a different world and perspective. It's really made me appreciate all that goes into having light accessible with just the flick of a switch.

CO: And you got to experience our fire alarm, which was unplanned.

EE: Unplanned, but a great source of exercise.

CO: That's great Elshen, thanks for being here today.