Early years: West coast ambitions
Born in Saskatoon, Johnson’s family moved to Calgary when he was 5. His father, Martin, was an economist who specialized in rate-based economics. He was self-employed, working with utility companies, including NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL) and TransCanada PipeLines Limited (TransCanada). Growing up with two brothers, Johnson was competitive from the onset. He played golf, football, rugby and baseball. In grade 12, he won the Henry Phillip Taylor award for most outstanding football player in the city.
After high school Johnson went on to the University of Calgary and received a degree in mechanical engineering. He recalls some of the students as creative and wild, they would hang cars from the arch at the University entrance. They frequently took apart parking booths and reassembled them in the engineering building lunch room.
After graduation, Johnson landed a job at an oil and gas company, NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL). They had an excellent training program that gave engineers experience in different departments of the company. Johnson had a lengthy stint in the real estate group. “We had 30 buildings across the province of Alberta and it was our job to maintain the properties’ and complete all of the project work required — renovations and expansions. We built new buildings and maintained them all.” TransCanada eventually acquired the company.
It was then that Johnson realized he preferred the managerial role of engineering over the design aspect. He was drawn to the element of face-to-face interaction and seeing a project through from beginning to end.
“I’m not sure that I could have charted out a specific career for myself but I was eager. Advancement and recognition were important to me, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid- thirties that I realized I wanted to be a top leader. I liked being in charge and it was the next step up, which is the only way you can look.”