As Stan Marshall headed for the exit at Nalcor Energy on June 10th – the Annual General Meeting completed, and the media given something akin to an oratorio on his own tenure – he might have been expecting public applause for a job well-done. After five weeks there is no echo to be heard – there having been not a sound!
Marshall reminded us that he arrived at Nalcor at a time of crisis – which is true.
He also suggested that after five years of giving the Crown Corporation his guiding hand, everything about the Muskrat Falls project is under control – which is not true.
Nor does his claim hold water that Nalcor’s expertise is something the province can’t do without.
The Premier having been advised of this view by Marshall, did not stop dismantling the Crown Corporation. A sound decision to be sure.
How might we - on the periphery of Government and politics - judge Stan Marshall’s time as the Nalcor CEO?
To begin with, we cannot saddle Marshall with the Muskrat Falls catastrophe. That, as we know, is the legacy of others.
But it is not disparaging of the man to say that his performance since 2016 does not live up to the thunder which only his voice echoes.
|Stan Marshall (photo credit: NTV)|
The expectation at the time was that Marshall would set to work and “fix” Nalcor, bringing some order to the Muskrat Falls Project. He was also expected to replace the senior management who were dishonest and performed poorly. He had “served notice that it won't be business as usual…” But the rhetoric remained unmatched by either decision or action. He didn’t deliver; not then, nor later.
Marshall embraced bombast at the start. The media made much of his “boondoggle” depiction of the project, its underpinnings having been assessed correctly as purely political; that is to say, it had no business case.
That was hardly a revelation, unless you were among the willfully deaf. The public was looking for prescription not description anyway. Chiefly, he was expected to inculcate Nalcor with some of the business principles and skillsets on which Fortis Inc. was established.
Why he failed to even begin this endeavour remains a matter of speculation.
His reorganization initiative was built around a NL Hydro re-hire: Jim Haynes. On him rested “bifurcation” of project management. V-P Gilbert Bennett earned a promotion rather than the warranted ejection and Jim Haynes was given the role of performing one-half of Gilbert Bennett’s job. The others at Nalcor, he said, were “good people”, notwithstanding the trail of evidence to the contrary.
If his own first steps were tentative, the Report of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry ought to have resolved his dither.
Richard LeBlanc concluded: “Edmund Martin, Gilbert Bennett and the PMT frequently took unprincipled steps to help secure Project sanction. They concealed information that would undermine the business case reported to the public, to GNL and to Nalcor’s board of directors.” (p. 18)
A dictionary definition of “unprincipled” runs the gamut from unethical to corrupt; even the most benign interpretation is not normally one that lets the misbehaved and unworthy keep their jobs or warrant them promotions and bonuses.
Judge LeBlanc had been a Supreme Court Justice since 2000. What could he possibly know about principles, deceit and professional standards? Stan Marshall, having held his own court, knew better.
Marshall’s failure emboldened Project Director, Paul Harrington, to write him on June 6, 2016 which ought to have been entitled 'Lament for the good old days when Ed Martin was still here'. Harrington’s letter stated that, as a result of his public comments, the PMT “are now starting to feel abandoned” having always had “the confidence of the Nalcor leadership.” Evidently, they didn’t like the truth about them being bandied about in the press.
In addition, Harrington let him know that he didn’t like even Marshall’s minimal reorganization suggesting that “he had not fully appreciated” the implications of the changes. After that barrage, Marshall went quiet, though the outburst ought to have been seen by the tentative CEO as just one more reason to clean house.
His flat footedness gives us cause to wonder why Fortis Inc. was run so differently; in particular, why a highly reputable, if aggressive and bombastic CEO, preferred to embrace the dubious virtues of the “boondoggle” rather than employ his lengthy executive experience to show the public sector how “real” business is conducted.
Was it that Marshall had served Fortis Inc. as its legal counsel for many years and had settled into the role of a “clean boots” executive?
Was he less connected to “infrastructure”, to the complex operational demands of agenda-driven contractors, and the tough job of building things than to the balance sheets that drive large corporate organizations?
Perhaps, it was that the skillset of the singular CEO contrasted with that of the collective expertise of the Corporate Executive, all of whom were highly regarded, too?
Or, was it simply, that Mr. Marshall had miscalculated, forgetting that Nalcor and Muskrat Falls needed a “crisis manager”, a seasoned lead able to identify not just incompetent contractors, but the inept officials who hired them?
Stan Marshall need only to have recognized the requirement for such a person; he did not possess the qualifications himself. Besides, who at Nalcor was able to give him advice or save him from misstep? The ones whom cronyism preferred?
Surely not Project Director Paul Harrington whom the Commissioner repeatedly named for his role in the creation of the estimates, interfering with consultants, and for keeping oversight at bay, including E&Y?
It is a safe bet that the Board of Fortis Inc. – and the Shareholders - would not have been as forgiving had those Nalcor hires been on their payroll.
But, to the point, shorn of the collective senior executives with whom he worked at Fortis Inc., the new CEO likely discovered that, at Nalcor, he was a lost soul in an Orchestra of third strings.