Power List 2023

The Power List: Top 10 EV Entrepreneurs

The movers and shakers Canada needs to make good on its electric ambitions
Maclean's
WEB-POWERLIST-EV-OPENER

Chris Doornbos, Marc Bedard, Cara Clairman, Swamy Kotagiri, Fraser Atkinson, William Trainer, Mark Ang and John Chen

These are the movers and shakers Canada needs to make good on its electric ambitions. Check out the full 2023 Power List here.

MORE: See who made the 2023 Maclean’s Power List

1. Marissa West is helping Canada usher in its EV revolution

President & managing director, General Motors Canada

Click here to find out why West gets the top spot

 

2. Swamy Kotagiri is leading an old-school company into an electric future

CEO, Magna International

Swamy Kotagiri is the CEO of Magna InternationalLast century, Magna became a world leader in auto-parts manufacturing. This century, it’s on its way to becoming an EV-parts giant. Kotagiri, who started at Magna in 1999 as a systems engineer before working up the ranks, is the ideal person to oversee the effort. His best asset is systems thinking—looking at the company as a whole, figuring out where the world is heading, then devising a plan to get there first. For Magna, that means an estimated $4.5 billion in EV-related product sales by 2025. To get there, the company is spending $471 million to retool existing factories for EV parts, and will build a new factory in Brampton to produce batteries for Ford’s electric F-150. It also recently started production on the Fisker Ocean SUV, its first entire-vehicle assembly, and is on pace to build more than 40,000 units this year.

3. Guy Belleau is spearheading a lithium empire

CEO, Sayona

Guy Belleau is the CEO of mining firm SayonaBelleau is a mining dynamo. He’s got more than 30 years of industry experience, overseeing exploration, construction and operation at some of the largest mining companies in Canada. He’s served on the board of the Quebec Mining Association and acted as chairman of the National Institute of Mining of Quebec. All of that is why Australian mining giant Sayona brought him aboard earlier this year, as the company planned to open a new mine about 550 kilometres northwest of Montreal, to produce lithium, a key element in building EV batteries. When it opens, it will be one of the few lithium mines in North America. Sayona bought it in 2021, for $46.7 million, and has spent $100 million getting it extraction-ready. If estimates are accurate, it could produce 30,000 tonnes of lithium this year. Sayona owns three other lithium sites in Quebec—the bedrock of an empire, with Belleau behind it all.

4. John Chen is rescuing an iconic Canadian company

CEO, Blackberry

John Chen is the CEO of BlackBerryTo most people, BlackBerry is synonymous with an extinct cellphone. But five years ago, as its flagship product died in the marketplace, the Waterloo company made a pivot essential to its survival. It hired Chen, who had already salvaged several flagging California tech companies, earning a reputation as the ultimate turnaround guy. Chen’s suggestion was radical: BlackBerry should get rid of, well, the BlackBerry, and become a software company. Today, it’s a $3-billion secure software provider with two primary businesses: providing cybersecurity for large institutions (such as banks and governments) and protecting internet-connected software, like vehicle GPS systems. BlackBerry sells security software to 24 of the top 25 EV companies and recently partnered with Chinese electric car company Hozon, providing security systems for its new futuristic sports sedan.

5. William Trainer is electrifying dirty diesel workhorses

CEO, Vicinity Motor Corp.

William Trainer is the CEO of electric vehicle company Vicinity Motor Corp.Trainer is the CEO and founder of Vicinity Motor Corp., an electric truck and bus maker headquartered in Aldergrove, British Columbia. He helped the company secure a major contract last year when Pioneer Auto Group, a B.C. auto dealer, ordered 100 of VMC’s medium-duty vehicles—the VMC 1200 Class 3, which can be used as a delivery, dump and work truck—in a deal worth $14 million.

The vehicles are expensive compared to their diesel equivalents, priced at $150,000 a pop, but they’re whisper-quiet, travel nearly 250 kilometres on a charge and qualify for a $40,000 zero-emission government rebate, which sweetened the deal for Pioneer. VMC currently manufactures the trucks at its assembly plant in Aldergrove, but will soon move production to the company’s new 100,000-square-foot facility located a 30-minute drive away in Ferndale, Washington.

6. Fraser Atkinson is making commercial transport clean and green

CEO, GreenPower

Fraser Atkinson is the CEO of Vancouver zero-emission vehicle company GreenPowerAtkinson is the chairman and CEO of GreenPower, a Vancouver-based company that manufactures zero-emission mid-size and heavy-duty vehicles, like shuttles, cargo vans and school buses. The company, which has nearly 100 employees and a $110-million valuation, absolutely crushed it in 2022. GreenPower unveiled a new, 80,000-square-foot production facility in West Virginia, with the capacity to pump out 600 electric school buses a year.

GreenPower’s EV product line includes school buses 

It also inked a deal to provide 1,500 cargo trucks to Workhorse, a B.C. company that specializes in “last-mile” deliveries—the final leg of a delivery journey. In Canada, tailpipe emissions from the commercial transportation sector account for a major share of the country’s total carbon footprint. GreenPower is pointing the way to a solution.

7. Chris Doornbos is digging up Alberta’s next big resource

CEO, e3 Lithium

Chris Doorknobs is the CEO of Calgary's E3 LithiumFor decades, Alberta has been an oil frontier, but its resource of the future might be lithium. There’s a lot of the stuff hidden under the province—E3’s resource alone contains 24.3 million tonnes of inferred lithium, enough to make the province a global player in battery production. Doornbos, the CEO of E3 Lithium, is piloting a project to extract it from a site north of Calgary. On E3’s path to commercialization, a few things need to happen first: feasibility studies, partnerships, an $800-million extraction plant. So far, E3 has announced just over $30 million of support from the feds to get operations underway. And the payoff could be huge. Ultimately, the site could produce 20,000 tonnes of lithium per year, starting in 2026. That’s enough for 300,000 Teslas. Over the next 20 years, the project could be worth $1.1 billion, and Doornbos could become Alberta’s first lithium baron.

 

8. Cara Clairman is spreading the EV gospel far and wide

CEO, Plug’n Drive

Cara Chairman is the CEO of EV firm Plug'n DriveClairman had an epiphany in 2009. While working in sustainable development at Ontario Power Generation, she heard about the first Chevy Volt coming off the line at GM’s plant in Oshawa. That’s when she realized the green revolution was under way. So she founded Plug’n Drive, a not-for-profit that aims to accelerate public adoption of EVs. Plug’n Drive now has a brick-and-mortar location in Toronto, called the Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre, where visitors can test-drive an EV.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Plug’n Drive (@plugndrive)

As many as 10,000 people visit it each year—and surveys conducted by Plug’n Drive show that nearly 40 per cent of test drivers purchase an EV within six months. The not-for-profit has a mobile trailer equipped with informational displays that travels the country, stopping at events and roadshows to spread the gospel of EV. It also offers webinars, employee training and student-learning programs.

9. Marc Bédard is turning yellow school buses into green machines

CEO, Lion Electric Co.

Marc Bedard is the CEO of zero-emission vehicle maker Lion Electric Co.Lion Electric Co., which makes zero-emission school buses and other mid-sized vehicles, had a big 2022 with some serious help from Joe Biden. Last year, POTUS announced the Clean School Bus Program, which divvied up $1 billion between 389 American school boards to electrify their fleets of school buses. Bédard—a former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and vice-president of a manufacturing company—leveraged his relationships with key officials in the U.S. government, ensuring that Lion, headquartered in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, secured the lucrative contract. Lion isn’t just in the bus business. It also manufactures electric trucks, which haul goods for customers including IKEA and Amazon, and Lion plans to open a $185-million battery plant in Quebec this year. And by 2026, Bedard hopes to have 1,500 electric ambulances saving lives across North America.

10. Mark Ang is cleaning up the shipping business

CEO, GoBolt

Mark And is the CEO of shipping and logistics company GoBoltGoBolt founder Mark Ang has a knack for adapting his businesses on the fly. In 2017, as a commerce student at the University of Toronto, he started a consumer storage company called Second Closet. Soon after, wanting to expand the operation, he changed his concept to GoBolt, an end-to-end shipping and logistics company, which is today located in 10 major cities across North America, among them Toronto, Montreal and New York. It now has about 1,000 employees, a client list including IKEA and Structube, and a fleet of 300 delivery vehicles, 70 of which are electric. Today, the company is going as green as it can, as fast as it can. GoBolt has already invested $30 million into its EVs and associated charging infrastructure, and it plans to conduct 90 per cent of its deliveries via EVs by the end of 2023. Greenification is a lofty goal, but for Ang and company, it’s just another pivot.

Check out the full 2023 Power List here


This article appears in print in the March 2023 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $9.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $39.99.