Michael Ladha recognized for his in-house leadership | NEXUS Magazine | Alumni | Faculty of Law | UNB

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Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in Canada: Michael Ladha recognized for his in-house leadership

Michael Ladha, K.C., ICD.D (LLB’09) has had an impressive climb to a top leadership position within the Canadian energy sector. Appointed at just 39 years old (now 41), he serves as Vice President, Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, the crown-owned utility responsible for generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity across the province and beyond.

A native of St. John’s, Michael is the son of two physicians. He joked that his parents pushed him to go into sciences to follow in their footsteps. After two years in biochemistry, he shifted gears and graduated with his business degree from Memorial University. Eager to continue his education, law school became the logical next step.

“I was focused on the East Coast. I was interested in being in a smaller town and consciously chose to attend UNB. It was known for its foundational legal education—the basics of law. That was highly regarded by the law firms in St. John’s.”

After his second year of law school, Michael was hired by St. John’s-based firm Curtis Dawe. He joined the firm as an associate upon graduation and spent the next seven years practising in the areas of insurance, real estate, and corporate/commercial.

“I was passionate about corporate/commercial work. I latched on to a senior partner, Aubrey Bonnell, K.C. and learned an incredible amount through his mentorship. I became drawn to in-house. I wanted to be part of the business, not just working on a single discrete issue and then moving on.”

Michael joined Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro in 2015 as Legal Counsel and rose steadily through the ranks. In his current role, Vice President, Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary, he is responsible for the oversight of all legal issues, managing the entire legal team, and interfacing with external legal counsel.

“We are actually a group of sixteen companies. Governance is also a big part of what I do, dealing with those sixteen Boards of Directors almost on a daily basis.”

Other significant aspects of his role include the management of access to information requests/privacy matters and supply chain and procurement. Over the years, he has seen nearly the entire business, rotated through a number of senior leaderships roles focusing on commercial matters, human resources, and environmental and safety management.

The changing landscape of the Canadian energy sector

The energy sector is going through a once-in-a-generation transformation. From potential underutilized clean fuels such as hydrogen, electrification, the transition to electric vehicles and heat pumps, and the Government of Canada’s push to Net Zero by 2035, the lives of all Canadians will be affected.

“We are quite fortunate here in Newfoundland and Labrador. With all the hydroelectric resources that we have, our generation is already more than 90% renewable, so we don't have as far to go in terms of becoming Net Zero.”

For Michael, the challenge facing his province—and his utility—is the level of development needed to meet the unprecedented growth in demand that will come with electrification and the push to Net Zero.

“Our CEO has been out on the speaking circuit, and she's often quoted as saying that we need to double our electrical system in the not-too-distant future to be able to serve the growth that's coming. That's a big challenge for the organization.”

He foresees an unparalleled build-out of the electricity system in Canada to achieve those targets. For provinces like Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, which still rely heavily on fossil fuels, the switch to renewables such as wind, solar, and small nuclear reactors, needs to happen quickly and in a big way. But it’s not just a change of infrastructure that is needed; it’s also a change in thinking about how we live.

“We are currently engaged in the build-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the province. With electrification, more and more of our lives are going to depend on electricity. If the power goes out, it will matter more than it already does today, and we’re conscious of that. Reliability will be a critical aspect of the plans for future systems.”

From Michael’s point of view, Newfoundland and Labrador is uniquely positioned to be a leader in renewable energy. With significant undeveloped resources, mostly hydroelectric and wind, he sees a clear path towards Net Zero.

Leadership, volunteerism and mentorship

Michael is in a unique leadership position. He is the youngest member of the executive team and has adopted a leadership style that relies on empowerment and accountability.

“I'm here to make sure that the department is helping our business achieve its strategic priorities, and to advise the Board and CEO. I'm not here to make all of the day-to-day decisions. Our excellent lawyers are the experts in their different areas of law. Although we are a team, I also like to say that they need to be fiercely independent in their work.”

He believes this approach allows his team to feel better connected to their work.

“We do really interesting work here. I believe it's one of the best and most interesting places to work in the province, and people need to be able to see themselves in that work, in those files. They need to be able to make those decisions.”

His leadership expands beyond business and into his community. Throughout his career, Michael has remained committed to supporting and amplifying the voices of others. This commitment stems from his own experience as a visible minority and member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s so important to me that we embrace diversity. And I believe it is critical for a business to succeed. We need diversity of thought and diversity of leadership.”

Michael brings this point of view to his extensive volunteer work. He served as a Director of the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador for six years, has held various positions within the provincial branch of the CBA from 2012 to 2017, is an Elected Bencher of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, sits on the Chapter Executive of the NL Branch of the Institute of Corporate Directors, is a judge for the Canadian Law Awards, and is a Director of the Canadian Bar Insurance Association/Lawyers Financial.

“I think a big part of my success to date stems from my board work and the organizations that I volunteer with. I urge students and recent grads to get involved in this kind of work as early as possible in their careers.”

He also attributes a large part of his successful career to the incredible support systems he has found along the way, specifically his mentors and to those who put their faith in him to lead.

“I’m grateful for Aubrey; he helped to develop my legal background. And for Geoff Young, K.C., my mentor at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. He was with the company for 35 years and was an encyclopedia of institutional knowledge. Also, my current CEO, Jennifer Williams and our Board. I am grateful every day for their trust. They have allowed me, at this relatively early stage in my career, to serve as their Chief Legal Officer.”

Michael was surprised when he heard he had been named to Canadian Lawyer’s list of Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers. He had been encouraged to submit his name for consideration by a colleague and did not expect to be chosen. He shared his belief that it is important—especially for young lawyers—to put your hand up. Whether it be for an award, a new position or a new challenge in your existing role, embrace and confront potential feelings of imposter syndrome. There is an element of self-promotion that goes along with success. Michael was also named as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in 2021 and had similar feelings about that recognition. While he does relish the awards and recognitions he has received throughout his career, there is one moment that stands out as the highlight.

“My father passed away suddenly about a year ago. He was a forensic psychiatrist and was often called into court as an expert witness due to his specialized expertise. He spent much more time in court than I ever have as a lawyer and he was well known and respected by the legal community. When I was appointed as Queen's Counsel (now King’s Counsel), my father was beyond excited and proud because of his strong connection to the legal community. I’m so grateful that I got to experience that moment with him before he passed.”