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Gender imbalance stands out

Lack of female leaders surprises CEO

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Linda Hasenfratz has led Guelph-based Linamar Corp. to some impressive growth since taking the reins from her father, but she was surprised to find out there are no women running publicly traded companies in Manitoba.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Linda Hasenfratz has led Guelph-based Linamar Corp. to some impressive growth since taking the reins from her father, but she was surprised to find out there are no women running publicly traded companies in Manitoba. Photo Store

When Linda Hasenfratz accepted the International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award on Monday night, she stood out from the many leaders of publicly traded companies in the room partly because of her performance but mainly because of her gender

The CEO of Guelph-based Linamar Corp., Canada's second-largest auto parts manufacturer, has led the company to some impressive growth since taking the reins from her father in 2003 -- the company's shares are trading north of $60, more than double from a year ago -- but she was surprised to hear there were no women running publicly-traded companies in Manitoba.

"You don't hear of that too often, that there's so few (female CEOs) in such a big region. It's unfortunate and a little shortsighted," she said.

"If there aren't the opportunities for women here that there are elsewhere, then the talented ones will leave. It would benefit Winnipeg and Manitoba businesses to show that's not the case so they can retain their top talent and have a more diverse business community."

The IDEA dinner is one of the highlights of the business calendar every year. She was fêted by the Associates, a group of business people with strong ties to the Asper School, and more than 800 people at the black-tie affair. She also received a custom-made pure gold medal produced by the Royal Canadian Mint specifically for the IDEA.

Hasenfratz said diversity in upper management, whether it's men and women or people from different cultures, is important because it brings different perspectives to the table so decision-making can "be more robust and explore more angles."

Hasenfratz has also distinguished herself because of her pathway to the top of the company, which was founded by her father, Frank Hasenfratz. She started out as a machine operator on the shop floor before starting her climb up the corporate ladder. She said such a career path gave her valuable "shop-floor cred."

"It was a huge help in relating with our employees and understanding the challenges of all those positions, whether it was the quality department, engineering or the shop floor. You appreciate how tough (these jobs) are, dealing with the heat, standing all day and the challenges of running an intricate piece of equipment and what can go wrong if you make a mistake," she said.

Hasenfratz can relate to Winnipeg because it has so many family-run businesses. Succession is one of the biggest challenges, she said, because the outgoing CEO (and often the founder) has to pick a family member who has both the capacity and appetite to do the top job.

"You can see examples of people who were picked but who weren't the right choice. Just because you're born into it doesn't mean you're going to be necessarily capable. My dad and I always agreed that I would be given the opportunity to take the next job if I wanted it and if I was capable.

"The CEO job wasn't in the bag. It was obviously the hope that I would move towards that, but if I wasn't capable or up to it, we both had an out," she said.

Hasenfratz spoke to students at the I.H. Asper School of Business on Monday morning.

She is the latest in a long line of world-renowned entrepreneurs to win the IDEA. Some of them include Chip Wilson (Lululemon), Richard Branson (Virgin), Dame Anita Roddick (the Body Shop), Izzy Asper (Canwest Global), Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman (Onex Corp. and Indigo Books and Music), and Albert Cohen (Gendis).

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 B6

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