PRESIDENT AND CEO, ZE POWERGROUP + ZE POWER ENGINEERING
When Zak El-ramly was passed over for promotion, he started his own company. In 1995, he was executive vice-president of Powerex Corp., the BC Hydro and Power Authority subsidiary that markets the utility’s surplus electricity. Someone else was appointed president of Powerex, and “I realized that my market value is higher than my corporate value, so I decided to leave,” El-ramly explains. He founded ZE Powergroup to advise utilities on how to operate in a competitive environment following the deregulation of U.S. energy markets.
El-ramly came to Canada on a student visa in 1969. Born in Port Said in northeastern Egypt and raised in Cairo, he was teaching engineering at Cairo’s Ain Shams University when the Six-day War broke out in 1967. Following a year in Kuwait working as an instrumentation engineer at an oil refinery, he moved to Ottawa, where he completed a master’s degree in combustion engineering and a PHD in aeronautical engineering at Carleton University. He stayed on as a flight safety researcher until 1977, when he landed an engineering job with BC Hydro’s energy conservation division in Vancouver.
Several years later, by then manager of the utility’s energy conservation group, El-ramly attended a NATO conference on energy management in Portugal. “I realized how much we knew compared to the rest of the world,” he says, “and eureka, I came up with the idea of having a massive program that covers the various aspects of conservation in one program,” now called Power Smart. In 1990 he moved to Powerex.
In 2001, El-ramly created ZE Market Analyzer (ZEMA), which develops software that helps clients like Chevron Corp., Gazprom and Royal Dutch Shell use their resources more efficiently. ZE Power Engineering, launched in 2005, designs electrical substations, mainly in B.C.
The Richmond-based, family-owned ZE group of companies has about 250 employees in Canada, including El-ramly’s five children, plus another 20 in the U.S., the U.K. and Singapore. “We actually graduate a lot of people from our operation, because we are willing to train and take newcomers and new graduates,” El-ramly says. “Of course when you do that, you don’t have fences, and the wild horses roam around. As a result, we feed the whole neighbourhood with horses.”
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