Robert Nicholson, MBA 95

Managing Director, Energy and Power Group
RBC Capital Markets
Toronto, Canada

A civil engineer in his past life, Robert Nicholson, MBA 95, says his conservative nature is a good fit for brokering financing deals for power and energy projects in Canada.

“Our markets are typically more income-oriented rather than growth-focused,” says Nicholson, managing director of the Energy and Power Group at RBC Capital Markets. “But Canada is coming out of the economic crisis very well so far, and companies with a reputation for success and producing good returns can continue to raise capital.”

Before entering the energy field, Nicholson was steeped in the world of environmental consulting. As a civil engineer, he advised clients how to prevent or remediate groundwater pollution for more than five years, “poking holes in landfills and contaminated industrial sites.” After earning his MBA, he spent ten years in investment banking in San Francisco and New York, working in project finance and mergers and acquisitions.

It was in San Francisco where Nicholson developed his passion for the power industry, while advising clients who bought assets from the incumbent utilities in California in the wake of deregulation of the state’s electrical system.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand the energy industry,” Nicholson says. “But it’s fascinating as an ever-evolving industry. It is a massive driver in Canada and also globally.”

Nicholson has been applying his expertise to Canada’s energy markets since returning home to Toronto and joining RBC in 2003. He has worked on a number of multibillion-dollar transactions, most recently leading a team advising on TransAlta Corp.’s acquisition of Canadian Hydro Developers and arranging $1.7 billion in financing.

“TransAlta is a 100-year-old utility with a significant portion of coal generation, so this was an opportunity for them to increase their renewable energy portfolio in one fell swoop,” says Nicholson.

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Such big deals make it exciting for him to be involved in energy in Canada. “We are very fortunate to have an industry that is very strong,” Nicholson says, noting the recent growth of independent, renewable power projects across the country. “Even though it’s fairly technologically conservative, the industry is moving forward, and that’s positive.”

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