Darren Sokoloski was born in Peace River, Alberta — not far from the site of the new dam. He’s lived in Canada all his life, holds a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Victoria, and an MBA from Queens’ University and Cornell University. As Country Director and President of ACCIONA Infrastructure Canada, his role is to guide the Canadian business unit forward toward a sustainable, profitable future.
I was a failed musician! I studied jazz guitar for a few years, then came to the realization that I was nowhere near good enough to make a living from it. I had lots of aptitude in the maths and sciences, so I went into mechanical engineering. I was particularly fascinated with anything to do with energy, so I started my career developing fuel-cell based technology and launching high-tech start-up businesses. After a number of years in the fuel cell business, I decided to change my career and become more business focused. I completed a joint Canada/USA-based MBA program with Queen’s and Cornell universities. I subsequently began exploring project ﬁnance and private equity and entered the P3 infrastructure sector where I’ve stayed for the last nine years, before joining ACCIONA two years ago.
Like many countries, Canada has a huge infrastructure gap; the country is investing to build new infrastructure but also to improve the infrastructure that we have. The construction sector in Canada has grown faster than the economy for the last 10 years and accounts for 7% to 8% of our circa $2 trillion economy. This growth is underlined by the new federal government’s commitment to make infrastructure investment one of its top priorities. Addi-tionally, the P3 procurement model has become well-esta-blished in Canada and is broadening in its application.
What’s really important, and one of the most difﬁcult things to achieve, is a stable human resource founda-tion. Our business does best when we have a lot of really good people who are motivated and working towards a common objective. To achieve this, we need to create a base of business, consistently available or repeating, that allows us to retain people on a long-term basis and to develop younger talent. A stable base of smaller projects, with shorter sales cycles and lower levels of risk, creates a foundation not just for revenue and cash ﬂow, but most importantly, for people.
The second challenge is delivering our business in the context of the domestic market. ACCIONA brings a lot of technical expertise and experience in different aspects of civil infrastructure and energy. However, delivering this expertise into the local market requires a host of other skills and relationships that are best acquired by building a strong team of people who come from the local market.
“We’re looking to create a model for sustainable growth and to change the way we do business in the process”
Site C is a fantastic opportunity for us, not just nationally but globally. It is not very often that the opportunity arises to build a world-class hydroelectric facility. This project will allow the company to train new people in how these projects are built; to refresh our collective global experience and credentials. At the country level the project is equally beneﬁcial. It’s an eight-year project, providing stable work for a good period of time. It’s also a project that we’re going to self-perform: the size and duration of the project allow us to buy equipment and hire staff to run that equipment on a signiﬁcant scale. Building up our capacity to self-perform work is an important tool for being successful across the rest of our construction business. I’d say Site C is a cornerstone of our business foundation going forward.
This is the ﬁrst water project that we’ve won in Canada. The contract is to build a 75 MLPD water treatment plant and upgrade associated reservoir and transmission works. It’s a P3 with a 30-year operating period and associated equity investment requirement. We have a very strong offering in the water space, where we can design, build, operate, and guarantee performance.
In addition to P3 and conventional construction projects in Canada, there are also great opportunities to expand our services business. Our initial services opportunity came through a P3 hospital project, the Royal Jubilee Hospital. The services team did such a good job providing the soft facility management (soft FM) services in the new tower we built, the Patient Care Center, that the healthcare authority invited them to bid for the rest of the existing hospital campus, and they won the contract. Currently ACCIONA provides a full scope of soft FM services for a 100,000 m2 hospital campus, consisting of 785 beds over 15 buildings.
The services team is also investigating opportunities outside the healthcare sector; as an example, they recently secured a new soft FM contract, in the comercial sector, with the provincial transit authority. High-quality and value added services is an area where we have solid experience and where segments of the Canadian market are under-served. I see further growth in the services sector as another key component of our business in Canada.
I enjoy the entrepreneurial aspect of what we’re doing. The opportunity to create growth and change the way we do business, while working with a diverse group of committed people globally, is what both keeps me awake at night and motivates me to get up again in the morning.
I have two young children and, living in Vancouver, we have ample opportunities to go skiing and do outdoor things. I’m also a late-blooming amateur boxer. So far the highlight of my boxing career has been joining other like-minded pugilists in a charitable event called “White Collar Fight Night”. We’re a group of not-so-young professional types who invite our ofﬁce mates down to watch us test our skills in the ring; while it’s not the best quality of boxing you will ever see, the beneﬁt of attending is that all the proceeds go to charity.