Celebrating National Forest and National Gender Equality Week ~ Linda Potvin, Mackenzie Sawmill Superintendent

To celebrate National Forest Week and National Gender Equality Week, we are pleased to share the unique story of Linda Potvin, Conifex’s first female superintendent.

 

Born in Victoria, BC and raised in Gaspesie, Quebec, Linda is one of those truly bilingual Canadians, speaking French at home while attending an English school.  In the 1990s, the call of the west lured her first to Faro, Yukon, then to Houston, BC, before settling in Mackenzie.  Like many women in small towns, she helped support her family with a variety of service related jobs, including hair styling and the local bar.  With three growing kids and a husband in the forest products industry, she decided to try her luck at the local Abitibi sawmill.

 

It wasn’t a quick climb up the ladder.  Linda is often described as an individual who defines hard work and perseverance and she needed both to succeed in the sawmill industry.   She waited six months for that first call for entry level clean-up, working across the site for another year, and then finding a permanent home on the Planer B crew from 2004-2008.

 

When Abitibi shut down in the last downturn, she went back to school in Prince George and got her registered Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) ticket and then her first aid course.   When Conifex acquired the Abitibi assets and restarted the mill in 2010, the first aid course was the key to being on the call back list, landing a spot as a charge hand on graveyard clean-up.   Linda became interested in moving into a supervisory role and applied several times for planer supervisor positions.  As she described it,   “I wanted to help people do and be their best”.  Despite being turned down, she saw each effort as an opportunity and gives credit to all her supervisors as crucial mentors who gave her a lot of autonomy to continuously improve and learn, not only about the equipment in the mill but as importantly, how to deal with people on the floor – essential skills needed in the supervisory roles.   At one point, Linda saw a planer position come up at another company and mentioned she was thinking about applying to move her career forward.   Luckily for Conifex, her supervisor and mentor at the time moved to the logyard and Linda became a planermill supervisor from 2012-2014.  From there she continued to learn, taking on a variety of roles including safety coordinator at the power plant, sawmill supervisor, and then in 2017, sawmill superintendent.

 

To Linda, Conifex is home.   She likes the culture that provides opportunities for advancement to those that work hard.  Several of her family members also work at Conifex Mackenzie and she knows every employee at the sawmill.     Conifex board and management support diversity, including the advancement of women with almost 30% across the company as a whole and 24% in Mackenzie.  When asked about the challenges of being a woman in a manufacturing role, Linda acknowledges that the physical side of working in a mill was never an issue, although there were challenges at times being heard and getting her point of view across.  She believes in holding people accountable, being clear about what is expected, and not being afraid to take action  – and that has earned her the respect of her peers and her employees.   She believes her empathy for people is an advantage and keeps an open door policy, including after hours.  Nick Hills, Mackenzie Plant Manager explains, “Linda is solid on her knowledge of the sawmill and she can run a shift no problem.   What makes her stand out is her exceptional ability to relate to people, her perseverance, her sense of humor, and her genuine compassion for the people she works with. “

 

So what advice would she give to young men and women interested in a career in the forest products sector.  “Work hard and learn as much as you can every day, be curious and try different departments.   And don’t be disappointed or give up if you are not initially chosen – someone will eventually see your potential as a shining star.”