100 Years, 100 People: 1990 - 1999
A new vision
His career with TransAlta started shortly after graduating from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1961. Paynter had always been interested in safety but only started in that area in 1971 when he became assistant safety supervisor.
Walter Saponja, also known around the office as Mr. TransAlta, was born and raised in Alberta. Upon graduating from the University of Alberta in 1961, Saponja was hired on with Calgary power as a junior engineer. He was the second mechanical engineer ever hired by the company.
Like many employees in the company, Walter worked with Montreal Engineering for a year and a half on construction of Wabamun Unit 3. Once at head office, Saponja served in many capacities and was involved in numerous projects. Some of his most memorable contributions to TransAlta included:
• Involvement in the company’s thermal power generation expansion for over three decades, including design, construction, commissioning and operations
• Staffing and recruiting talent for the Sundance and Keephills plants in the ‘70s and ‘80s
• Leading development of a generation economic dispatch model amongst Alberta’s generating utilities
• Participating in formative discussions with the government and others to deregulate the electricity system
• Serving on the Board of Directors of TransAlta Corp. and TransAlta New Zealand
Saponja also served as interim president & CEO of TransAlta in 1996. During this time he implemented “coffee pot sessions” where employees and managers discussed issues in order to strengthen lines of communication. He was truly passionate about his job. “I never had a dull day at TransAlta” said Walter. “I loved to come to work every day because I was always challenged. I just took one day at a time and when I checked, 37 years had passed.”
In 1999, he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Canadian Electricity Association in recognition for his contribution to the electric utility industry. Walter retired in 1998, having contributed 37 years of service to TransAlta. He and his wife currently live in Calgary and are proud of five grandchildren.
Sandra Gilbertson was born and raised in Alberta. After working as a waitress at the Park Hotel in Red Deer, Gilbertson moved to Calgary and was hired on with Calgary Power in 1963. Her first salary was $200 per month.
After working as an operations clerk for about five years, Gilbertson resigned in 1967 to migrate to Australia. At her return to Canada in October, 1970, Gilbertson got back on with Calgary Power. This time, she worked in the Accounting and Divisions departments. In her first few years back with Calgary Power, Sandra combined her office duties with truck driving. She was the first official female truck driver with Calgary Power, driving new trucks out to the districts and divisions and bringing the old trucks back.
In 1973, she was transferred to Human Resources as a confidential clerk. “I truly enjoyed this position, said Sandra. “I was the link between head office and employees in the field, helping them with their pay and other needs.”
Gilbertson was later promoted to Human Resources information centre coordinator. In this role, she was involved in the production and design of a new Human Resources computer system. In 1994 when SAP was introduced to TransAlta, Gilbertson was involved setting up in the employee information system and cleaning up the data in SAP. Her help, experience and support in this project allowed the HR team to have a smoother transition. She then transferred to the Information Services department in 1996, supporting the SAP system for Human Resources.
Sandra retired in 1999, after 34 years with TransAlta. Her passion and dedication for the company has kept her connected thought the years. Sandra is actively involved in TARA’s social and volunteer groups and United Way activities. She is also the current chair of the TARA Benefit Plan and the official reporter for TARA Talks; TARA’s quarterly newsletter.
Kathy Black – was born in Calgary and was raised in Longview, Alberta. Shortly after graduating from Business Administration at SAIT in 1980, Kathy was offered a position at Calgary Power as a filing clerk in the Accounts Payable department. “I was planning on keeping this job for maximum two years,” said Black. “My mother had worked at Calgary Power and was keen on me following her footsteps. I just never thought that my 2-year plan would become a 30 year career,” said Black.
Over the 30 years Kathy has transferred to numerous positions within the Finance team and has been involved in several accounting projects. Some of her greatest contributions include:
• Participating in the implementation of SAP into Finance in 1995 and 1996
• Participating in the recent implementation of Canadian Hydro into SAP
• Participating in the introduction of at least three other accounting systems prior to SAP
Kathy, who currently works as a Senior Finance Analyst is still considered among her peers as the “go to” person when there are issues or questions around using the Finance modules in SAP. She has demonstrated a commitment to TransAlta and the people who work for the company. “It has been an honour to contribute in the implementation of new technology and see how the company has evolved,” said Black. “When I started everything was done in hand-writing. When personal computers were finally introduced employees shared one computer between 15 people”.
Bob Westbury was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1936. Through his career, Bob has demonstrated a strong, personal interest in helping the community. Before joining TransAlta, he worked as director of curriculum for the Edmonton Separate School Board and was the founding president of the SEEDS Foundation. This foundation provides energy and environmental education resources to Canadian teachers and students.
Westbury joined TransAlta in 1985 as assistant vice- president Northern Alberta. As time passed, he was promoted several times. In the mid-90s, Bob was involved in several community investment initiatives such as the Calgary Zoo, the Calgary Stampede, and the Fringe Theater Adventures. He is well known in the Edmonton region and throughout the province as a tireless volunteer and outstanding community citizen.
Westbury was a key contributor to the renovation of the Arts Barns complex at the Fringe, not only in terms of direct contribution, but also in helping them raise $9.2 million, the balance required to complete the project. He chaired the fund-raising campaign on behalf of the Fringe and TransAlta and in 2004 the Westbury Theatre, was named in honour of him. His endless efforts to help the community and build relationships with our customers and stakeholders have helped TransAlta gain name recognition throughout the province as a sustainable business.
Towards the end of his career at TransAlta, while he worked as vice president Environmental and Public Affairs, Westbury participated in regulatory discussions with the government to deregulate the electricity system. This was a new and exciting challenge for him.
After 16 years with TransAlta, Bob retired in 2001 as vice-president Corporate Relations. He currently lives in Edmonton where he chairs the TELUS Edmonton Community Board, the Alberta Centre for Child Family and Community Research and the Enoch/Paragon Board.
He rejoined Calgary Power in 1975 and a year later he was appointed vice-president Administration. By 1980 he was again promoted, this time to senior vice-president Operations. Five years later, McCready became president and chief operating officer of TransAlta following Williams’ retirement. He was only 46 years old when he took on this position.
McCready held the position of president and chief executive officer until 1996, when he retired. After retirement he continued to be involved in the energy industry. He is currently president of K.F. McCready & Associates, a sustainable energy development consulting company. He is also a member of the board of directors of several Canadian corporations and chair of the Minister of Natural Resource Canada’s Advisory Board of Energy Science and Technology