“I’m so glad you didn’t ask me about my work-life balance.”
Johanne Mullen would much rather talk to the media about the work she is doing than adhere to the stereotypical questions asked of women in positions of power.
What’s unique about Mullen is her confidence and her experience in a traditionally male-dominated infrastructure world. Despite her impressive range of titles — National Infrastructure and Project Finance Leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC) , director of the Institut pour les partenariats public-privé du Québec, director of the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships — she is down to earth and can speak as easily to one person as she can to a crowd. Her passion for her work is obvious and her knowledge and professionalism is impressive.
Women’s Post sat down with Mullen before her panel discussion on transit with Metrolinx’s CEO Bruce McCuaig at the annual National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships last week. The discussion ranged from Mullen’s background in finance to the future of public-private partnerships, and with each question her passion for project finance and infrastructure became obvious.
Mullen began her academic career at Concordia University, where she studied Commerce in Finance, before completing her Master of Business Administration in International Business at McGill University. She has over 20 years of experience in capital project and procurement advisory, as well as in project and structured finance.
In 2000, she started to work with the PWC, and fell in love with advisory and project finance. Some of her more notable accomplishments include acting as procurement and financial advisor for Saint-John’s Safe Clean Drinking Water program; advising the government of Nunavut on procurement and financing of the Iqaluit airport expansion; acting as an independent financial advisor for Nalcor Energy; and advising Infrastructure Ontario on the Pan Am Athletes Village.
“I love the advisory bit because I feel like I’m helping people develop something that is important to them, to the community,” she said. “I like the tangible aspect of the job—when I project is delivered you get to see it, you see the benefits.”
Mullen works with P3s, better known as public–private partnerships. These partnerships allow for a performance-based approach to procuring public infrastructure, which means the government does not pay for an asset until it is operational. This puts pressure on the private sector to remain accountable and to produce results. What’s unique about these projects is that the government is making a long-term investment. The cost of the asset includes 20 to 30 years worth of maintenance, depending on the contract.
According to Mullen, about 98 per cent of P3 projects are built on time and on budget.
“The reality is that if you understand the contractual model, the cost of delivering late is significant and obviously every cost overrun (the private sector) are picking up,” she said. “So they can’t afford to get it wrong.”
Right now, a lot of P3 projects are federal or provincial; however, they are trying to break into the municipal sphere. Mullen is already working on a project in Saint-John’s, and she would recommend that big cities such as Toronto look into P3 projects to help solve issues such as affordable housing.
“Personally, I think it’s been ignored more than it should be,” Mullen said of social housing.
In the meantime, Mullen has been working with municipalities such as Toronto to see how P3s can make a difference with public transit. The panel discussion she moderated at the National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships was a huge success, and promises to be a topic of discussion for Toronto’s future transit goals. At least we know there is a qualified, capable, and passionate woman leading the way.