“It doesn’t matter who you are or what your position is in an organization, just like in your family, you have to make decisions.” – Nancy Southern

Let’s take it back just five years, to 2011. It was a memorable year in Canadian politics, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally clinching a majority government and Premier Alison Redford sworn in as Alberta’s 14th premier, the first woman to hold the office. Redford wasn’t the only strong female leader making gains in 2011. Nancy Southern, CEO of Atco Group and Alberta’s 2011 Business Person of the Year, was busy closing billion-dollar deals with people halfway across the world. The purchase of Western Australia Gas Networks was a career highlight for Southern despite the “sleepless nights” and “gut-wrenching” feeling she says preceded the closing of the $1.1-billion deal. Now, with 14 years as Atco Group’s CEO under her belt, Southern has grown accustomed to guiding the $19-billion enterprise. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what your position is in an organization, just like in your family, you have to make decisions,” she says. “Every time you’re making a decision you’re demonstrating leadership.” Family and business have always been synonymous for Southern. Growing up on the trailer lot where her grandfather and father started the business in 1947, Southern was comfortable discussing business at the dinner table. “I have been fortunate to have a father that allowed my sister and I and my mom to grow up in a family of commerce,” Southern says. Her father, Ron Southern, who passed away last January at the age of 85, was the most influential leader in her life: “Right through to the end of his life, he was always curious about new innovation, improved products, better efficiency in delivering products.” It seems Ron Southern passed those traits on to his daughter, as she’s gathered numerous awards for her work in business, entrepreneurship and community service. Southern received the Peter Lougheed Award for Leadership and Public Policy, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Calgary in recognition of her community service and the T. Patrick Boyle Founder’s Award from the Fraser Institute. She is also an Honorary Chief of the Kainai (Blood Tribe of Alberta) and was given the name Aksistoowa’paakii, or Brave Woman.

The Year that Was 2011

In May, a wildfire tore through Slave Lake, destroying 733 homes

The federal Conservative party wins its long-coveted majority government

Alison Redford is sworn in as Alberta’s 14th premier in October