Shawn Scott: From student to CEO

Shawn Scott

It occurred to us a while back that, while you can easily get to know the great people here at RVA, it may be hard to get more info on Shawn, our President and CEO, outside of our Leadership page. So, we thought we’d take some time and ask Shawn to tell everyone a bit about himself, and how he came to run this amazing company.

Shawn Scott is an award-winning executive with a thirty-year career that spans water and wastewater, municipal infrastructure, urban development, and P3 projects. As the current President and Chief Executive Officer, Shawn brings a strategic, innovative, and client-centric lens to lead a broad mandate that is focused on service excellence, market growth, team culture, and corporate social responsibility. The self-described Formula 1 fan holds a BASc in Civil Engineering from Queen’s University, is a Director for the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies Ontario, and spends his free time working on his Jaguar and snowmobiles.

What was your journey leading up to RVA?

Before RVA, I was a summer student at Dennis Consultants for two terms. When I graduated in 1992, it was during the recession days, and I returned to my hometown of Sudbury when prospects in the engineering industry were at a downturn. But I had an offer to join Dennis Consultants again – not as a summer student, but as a full-time civil engineer. There, I became heavily involved in civil projects, such as subdivisions, watermains, water towers, treatment plants, and water distribution systems. Eventually, I began working on a joint collaboration between R. V. Anderson and Dennis Consultants on the Sudbury Wastewater Treatment Plant, which set the foundation for the two firms later merging into what we know as RVA today.

When did you first discover your passion for your line of work?

I’ve always been mechanically inclined from a young age. I was one of those kids with boxes filled with LEGOs, taking whatever pieces I had to build something new. I also had an uncle who owned a landfill site in Sudbury, where he would take me to scrounge for parts, brakes, wheels – anything that I could make something with. As I got older, I moved onto bikes, cars, go karts, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles. Now, as an adult, you can still find me at the cottage tinkering on any old project – which, more often than not, happens to involve a motor.

What were some of the key factors that helped you succeed in your career?

I was always fortunate to have the opportunity to work on just about anything I wanted. I’ve designed what was once the largest pumps in North America, built new and innovative technologies for water treatment, designed and modeled city-wide water distribution systems, managed P3 biosolids projects, and even procured generators for the city during the Y2K scare. And being in a branch office, you’re thrown into the business side of engineering from day one. Having the opportunity to lead projects and work with clients one-on-one at an early stage rounded me out as a project manager with business acumen, and an engineer with a broad portfolio of projects. Being able to build that generalist experience as a jack-of-all-trades allowed me to progress through the many roles I’ve had at the firm.

I also had great mentors: John Dennis, who was larger than life; Gerry Sigal, who shaped my dedication towards my craft; Paul Graham of The Region of Sudbury, who gave me some of my highest-profile assignments; and Ken Morrison, who saw potential in me and appointed me the youngest Associate Director in the firm at the time. They taught me to be bold, to persevere, and – even though I didn’t know it then – to be prepared to run the firm one day. When I took on the mantle of CEO, my first question was, “What did I get myself into?” But having been mentored through the toughest projects, I wanted to use my drive and determination to be an advocate for a great team and a great company. Thanks to my mentors, I found that I knew a lot more about running RVA than I thought, and it’s grown to where we are today.

What has running RVA taught you?

That change is the only constant. Our industry is dynamic, but the goal in my mind is to always try to make RVA a better company. Achieving this means being motivated by change, building and supporting the next generation of leaders, navigating unchartered territory, and always learning. Welcoming the unfamiliar can be daunting, but it all comes down to how you define issues. It can be an opportunity to gain knowledge about a new part of the business, to help scale-up growth, or set a new standard. There can be no growth without change. That’s relevant for any sustainable business.

Looking back on your career, what is one piece of advice you would offer to other young professionals in the industry?

My career hasn’t always been straightforward. I’ve made mistakes, we all do. That’s where learning happens. Like many engineers, I’ve had nights where I’ve woken up at 4 o’clock in the morning in a panic just to run over my calculations again, convinced I’d screwed something up. But engineering is a lesson in problem solving, hard work, and grit. You always learn more from the difficult projects than the easy ones. So, focus on the lessons learned, and welcome any bump in the road as a chance to evolve. You know a lot more than you believe you know.

What keeps you motivated outside of work?

For one, I love living in Sudbury, and it’s a privilege to be able to give back to this city. On the personal side, I’m a Northern Ontarian through and through, so in my free time (between the family and company), I love to ski, hunt, boat, golf, and spend time with my family and friends in the outdoors year-round. Except on Sundays, which are dedicated to the F1 races (for the record, I’m a Hamilton fan).

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re ever around the office, feel free to swing on by and say hello!