Fortis: Past, present, future

Posted on January 02, 2024 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments

Fortis has come a long way in 139 years—and has a long way to go yet. But there’s one move they have no intention of making

When will St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador say goodbye to its greatest business success story? It’s a question that’s been asked for decades, but even more frequently since the company came under the leadership of U.S.-based president and CEO David Hutchens.

Fortis Inc. can trace its earliest roots to a humble utility service in 1885 St. John’s. Today, it’s a publicly traded powerhouse with $11 billion in annual revenue (2022), subsidiaries across Canada, the U.S. and Caribbean, and a record-setting history of shareholder returns. So, when will it move its main office to some more logical, central location… like Toronto or New York?

“The answer today is still as it was when I answered it 50 times on the first day, when I went through all my employee meetings and (was) talking about becoming the new CEO: (there are) no plans to move it,” Hutchens told Atlantic Business Magazine, smiling at getting the question yet again.

“We’ve got just a tremendous amount of talent on the team there,” he said, on a video call from Arizona, before diving into deeper discussions on leadership and plans for the future.

A special meeting

Modern-day Fortis was born at a special meeting of Newfoundland Light & Power shareholders at the Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s on Nov. 24, 1987. The previous year, Angus Bruneau—former Dean of Engineering at Memorial University—had been named president and CEO of the electric utility. This was a vitally important local company: people depended on it for reliable and affordable power for their homes and businesses.

At that meeting, Bruneau presented shareholders with an idea for a new holding company/investment opportunity and an offer. Each of the 8,542,942 common shares of Newfoundland Light & Power (it was rebranded to Newfoundland Power in 1990) would be worth a single share of a new holding company: Fortis. Bruneau’s idea, and offer, were accepted.

As noted in The Illustrated History of Newfoundland Light & Power by Mel Baker, Robert Pitt and Janet Miller Pitt (1990), Fortis is Latin for ‘strong’. The new holding company would have the ability to leverage the steady income of the utility and pair it with investor interest in business opportunities outside of Newfoundland Power and regulated utilities. There was an interim board, including Bruneau, and they decided the official start would be Dec. 29, 1987.

Early day-to-day operations relied on cross-over appointees from Newfoundland Light & Power. These included Bruneau as well as vice-president of finance John Rutherford and corporate secretary Raymond Gosine. Herbert Stanley “Stan” Marshall—remember that name—was Fortis’ first vice-president of corporate affairs. The team was tasked with vetting potential new investment opportunities. Soon, Bruneau was pulling back from his work with the utility to dedicate more time to Fortis.

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