This month The Professional Edge chats with Jamie Bakos, P.Eng., President and CEO of Titan Clean Energy Projects Corp. in Craik.
Tell us about your personal and professional background.
I was born and raised in Saskatoon. I graduated from Evan Hardy High School and went straight into civil engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. After a couple of years, I transferred to the University of Guelph which offered Canada’s first-ever environmental engineering program in 1990.
Why did you choose engineering?
For engineering in general, my reasons were pretty mundane. I was good at math and science and the economy was struggling when I left high school, so I wanted to go into a program with a solid career opportunity. But after a while, studying civil engineering, the prospect of spending my days looking at road designs didn’t appeal to me. I had excelled at the courses that dealt with air, water and soil issues and found those courses very interesting. As well, it seemed at the time that the environment would become a bigger issue in the future.
What was your biggest challenge in college?
Being a transfer student, not all my courses transferred but I still wanted to graduate on time, in part because my funds were running thin. I took nine courses in my final year to ensure I graduated on schedule. Financially, I was down to running on $3 a day. A local restaurant offered a dish of carrots and peas for 75 cents so that became a staple. But I was doing something I enjoyed so that got me through.
What was your first job after college?
I was fortunate to meet an executive of Wardrop Engineering and was hired into their environmental services division in Winnipeg. This was the early days of the field, so it was an exciting time. I was part of a really good, creative group of 20-somethings and intermediate and senior engineers who worked hard and played hard. It was a great way to start a career.
What is your greatest accomplishment as an engineer?
In broad terms, having the opportunity to find, hire and mentor good people. I think my single biggest skill is to hire engineers and other individuals who are better than me. Of course, I’m also proud to be the co-founder of Titan Clean Energy, a company that is making a cleaner world by building technologies and manufacturing products that protect the environment.
What do you do for continuing professional development (CPD)?
CPD for me is constant every day. I’m always studying patents and technical papers and new technologies. I do speaking engagements to students two or three times a year. I make public education presentations about green technologies and products at trade shows. I serve on the board of the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, which offers numerous professional opportunities to its members. For example, I attended a board workshop on the impact of social media and another on corporate governance. The board also runs a book of the month club on business and cultural themes.
What are your interests outside of work?
Ten years ago, I could have given you a long list of sports and outdoor recreation but these days I either don’t have time or there isn’t the opportunity in a small town. One pastime I really enjoy is golf at the Craik golf course.
Have you ever met anyone famous?
I’ve met a bunch of politicians and musicians in passing. I met Jean Chretien at an environmental awards ceremony in Ontario. I remember thinking how soft his hands were when shaking his hand – he obviously hadn’t spent a lot of time working hard labour. Another time, I had drinks with the then mayor of Toronto David Miller. At one point, some people came by and asked for a picture. He assumed they wanted a selfie with him. It turned out they had no idea who he was and just wanted him to take a picture of them. He graciously and humorously complied.
What is your favourite vacation spot?
My favourite is probably my next one. I try to do something different each the time and never go to the same place twice. I tend to alternate between cultural destinations and relaxation-oriented places. My second last was in Thailand, which was an amazing place with wonderful, hospitable and resilient people. My last one was just a mindless beach vacation to the Dominican Republic, but there was a funny story to it. While out on a whale-watching excursion, I lost my Tilley hat, which had a little secret pocket with my ID, credit cards, bank card and some cash. A few days later, a question was sent to the company website asking if I was OK. The hat had been found 30 kilometres up the coast. The people who found it took the trouble to make the trip to bring it back to me.
Who has had the greatest influence on your life and career?
For my life in general, I would certainly have to say my parents. They instilled, by example, a great work ethic in my brothers and me. They grew up in the Depression in small-town Saskatchewan where there were few opportunities, but they created an environment for my brothers and me to go to university to pursue our dreams.
In my career, an important early mentor for me on my first job was Ed Wolowich P.Eng., who not only stressed good engineering but also the importance of good writing skills, communication, project management and customer relationships. He gave me the opportunity to start a new branch office in Saskatoon, which put me on the path from the technical path to the business side which ultimately led me to the entrepreneurial world of Titan.