Live & Learn: Madeleine Paquin

The CEO and president of Logistec Corp. on Canadian competitiveness and breaking the glass ceiling.

Born June 1, 1962, in Quebec City • CEO and President of Logistec Corp.

We lived in a family that was very focused on the international scene. My father would bring home the people from abroad that he was dealing with. We were exposed to an international community early on.

When I was 10, not too many people in Quebec City had knowledge of the world. Both my parents were French-Canadian. My father worked in a pretty Anglophone industry, and his thought was: my kids are not going to not learn English. Thank God for that. I think everybody should be bilingual if they have the opportunity.

Logistec wasn’t a company that I knew all my life. When I walked in, I had a lot to learn. I saw the international side, I saw the business side, and it’s an extremely interesting business.

I travelled an awful lot, and I met customers from across the world. During all this time, the world of shipping changed. You work like a dog. I had no life. But I really enjoyed what I was doing, and I didn’t count the hours.

I gave out a really nice special dividend last year, which would mean that the value of the company has gone up six times in the last eleven years. I think that’s pretty good.

Finding projects that make sense, at the right price, is the real challenge.

I have two sisters, and both work in our company. I believe both are very happy where they are and they wouldn’t want my job. They’re both very good at what they do. That certainly makes it very easy. We try not to treat it as a family business.

I have two young girls, 10 and 12 years old. When kids are young, they naturally go toward the mother and the mother wants to be there for them. So it is a bit of a struggle. It’s a question of being organized, and when you are at home you spend quality time only.

I manage to do that with the help of nannies. My nanny on weekends takes care of me so that I can take care of my kids and be with them. It’s gotten easier; I have to say it’s gotten easier.

When I travel now, my kids understand why. Before they didn’t, they’d hang on to my knees.

Have I had challenges because I’m a woman? Certainly things are different, but I would say it’s worked more in my favour than against.

There were some people who were uncomfortable with me because I was a woman. I wasn’t necessarily part of the boys club or whatever. But I was so focused, I didn’t pay attention to these people.

If anything, I get doors more opened than closed because I am a woman, because I’m a novelty.

I remember I used to go and see ship owners that wouldn’t give the time of day to my competitors, but they were interested to see me because I was female, I was young and I had a father who was successful in the business. The door opened for me. And it was just up to me not to mess it up. I won’t get a second chance.

We got visibility, whereas maybe we wouldn’t have gotten it if the company was run by a male with grey hair. There’s so many of those. Now there are more women. But 15 years ago, especially in our industry, I promise you I was alone.

Our biggest issue in Canada is competitiveness. I don’t think our pain is finished. We need to increase our productivity and research so that we become more competitive in industry, particularly in manufacturing. Our economic prosperity depends on it.

Over time, we probably haven’t done enough R&D to be able to make sure that our industries are at the forefront. I’m not sure that it’s not too late, but it’s not my call.

It’s easy for Logistec to be environmentally friendly, because water transportation is the most ecological means of transportation. If we can take merchandise off trucks and trains and put them on water, that’s beneficial to our environment.

I do try and keep some balance. Sometimes it’s hard, because you are working against a huge amount of deadlines and that’s never good. Balance also means that you need time to think.

One of my daughters is a big soccer fan. I’ll go to the soccer games and watch and cheer. I have just as much fun doing that as I do going to work, if not more.

You know that Super Mom idea? Super Mom, super everything. You think you can do a million things. I don’t think you can. You have to choose. You have to focus. You can’t be happy doing a million things.