Burnaby has a new director of engineering

When you first walk into Leon Gous's office in the engineering department, immediately hanging on the left wall is the famous 1990 Voyager photograph where for a fraction of a second the camera captures blue light reflecting from Earth - a tiny spec in the large dark cosmos - made famous in the late Carl Sagan's book, Pale Blue Dot.

Beside the photograph featuring Sagan's famous quote on the picture, hangs a large world map right across from the new director of engineering's L-shaped desk.

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The wall dcor is an important backdrop to what Gous refers to as always keeping things in perspective.

"I always used to tell my staff in Vernon is you always have to keep some perspective in life," he said. "And I always had that world map up ... because the guys would come in at the city and always say to me, basically, there's these end of the world problems and I'll sit back and say look at that map and realize that seven billion people couldn't give a damn about it."

Gous said with those ideas in tow, it helps him direct and handle a problem while also keeping an eye on how it relates to everything as a whole.

"The Carl Sagan (Pale Blue Dot quote) was one more perspective zoom out from the world map because if you look at that picture there ... 6.5 billion miles away is the little Earth and that's basically perspective. That particular piece is quite stunning, in fact."

While keeping the world on his purview, Gous hails from far away South Africa where he obtained his two engineering degrees; his relevant one is an honours degree in urban engineering.

"I'm a civil engineer," he said. "I got both of those in South Africa in Pretoria and I worked a little bit there at the time, actually, for a municipality in South Africa."

Gous worked for the former town called Midrand, which is now part of the greater Metro Johannesburg.

"It was a really interesting time I happened to be working for the city, and of course it was right around an election in '94," he said. "It was the first real free election so it changed the face of a lot of organizations on the local government and provincial government levels. It was an interesting time. You could never take away that learning experience."

It was a dynamic time that would initially put Gous in the throws of public service, but in 1996 he and his wife left their families and moved to Canada.

He worked for a private consulting firm on small hydro projects for six years and did his MBA at Simon Fraser University in 2001 and finished in 2003.

"From there, I was actually recruited just at the end of my MBA to go and start up a regional water utility in the Vernon area," Gous said. "I was hired to go set that up and become their project director, which was kind of looking after a big capital investment program that they had to improve their water collection program."

After a year of working for the regional district, one of the City of Vernon's general managers resigned. Gous took the position and then in 2005 took over the city's top position as the chief administrative officer.

"I left there after two terms," he said. "When I got hired on I did commit to two terms because we had a whole turnaround that we needed to do and I was committed to do that."

A new council started with Gous in 2005, but he left at the end of 2011 and moved to the Lower Mainland to work, once again, in the private sector.

"(I) worked for Flour, which is a huge engineering and construction company and I was working on a big mine expansion in Peru," he said. "So I did that for the last eight months."

Gous was involved in a $4.4 billion expansion to a copper mine in Southern Peru, but the move to Southern B.C. was also inspired by his 15- and 13-year-old daughters.

"That was one of our big drives, was family, that was our move," he said laughing as he mentions he's outnumbered in his household with his two daughters, wife and their female dog.

Gous was drawn to the director of engineering position in Burnaby because of the city's reputation for being well managed.

"What I really liked was it's obviously a very well-run municipality," he said. "The size was, I think, also the right kind of range that I was interested in."

Gous started as the director on July 2.

"I think clearly my experience as (chief administrative officer) of the City of Vernon must have helped," he said, when asked why he believes he was chosen for the position. "Of course, a very broad experience of running a city and these kinds of positions as a director - you do really need to have a city handle, not just focus on engineering issues - you need to be looking at the interest of the whole city."

Gous said his other directive is to serve the community.

"It sounds trite, always, but it's still fundamental to everything we do," he added. "We have fundamental services we have to deliver and we deliver it to a customer base, and if we're not meeting their need, you're pretty much wasting your time. To me, customer service from a city's perspective is important."

The other objective for Gous is to improve the department and city where he can, but does not think any big changes are required.

"I think the basics are there and the city is very well run," he added.

Barry Davis was acting director of engineering but decided the position wasn't for him, according to Bob Moncur, city manager.

Davis has returned to his position as deputy director of engineering.

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