April 6, 2010
Janine North thinks being a woman in B.C.’s male-dominated resource sector gives her an edge.
“I have never faced a glass ceiling,” said North, 49. “Being a woman allows you to bring a different or unexpected skill set, and I see that as an advantage not a disadvantage.”
Northern Development Chief Executive Officer Janine North speaks with
Tim Renshaw, Managing Editor, Business in Vancouver at the
Business in Vancouver’s Influential Women of the Year Awards
luncheon held on April 14th, 2010 in Vancouver
North is CEO of , an independent economic development corporation formed in 2005 to spur growth in northern B.C.
The trust was founded with an initial $185 million cash infusion, and uses the money to invest in projects that not only stimulate the economy, but also garner additional sources of capital and provide a return on investment that will maintain it for the long term.
In five years, the trust has committed $96 million in project funding that has leveraged other sources of funding and resulted in almost $900 million in total northern investment.
A lot of her job is about “shaking the money tree,” but in order for dollars to fall her way, she said, it’s important to be mindful of the north’s sparse population.
“You are never anonymous in the north,” she said. “You learn that golden rule of small towns … not to burn your bridges.”
Fortunately, years spent in B.C.’s resource sector provided her with ample time to learn that lesson.
Although she was born in Victoria, work on a farm as a teenager led North into the agricultural business. She found early success there and became an executive councillor of the B.C. Institute of Agrologists in 1986.
At 28, she was named vice-president of the Agricultural Institute of Canada and got a taste of what it means to be a leader.
She would later transfer from the agricultural sector into B.C.’s forestry business.
That change took her all over northern B.C., where she would learn about the issues that affect many of the province’s rural communities.
During her forestry career, North held positions with the Vanderhoof and Fort St. James Forest Districts and was general manager of KDL Group, a group of resource development companies based in Fort St. James.
Greater leadership roles would begin for her in 1997, when the provincial government appointed her chair of the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund.
The organization was designed to promote economic development in northwestern B.C. and would groom North for her eventual role at Northern Development.
She said being a leader in rural B.C. is different from anywhere else.
“It’s a get-close-and-personal approach to leadership,” said North. “The power lunch down here might be the potlatch up there.”
But her career hasn’t been all agriculture and forestry.
North was also the owner and CEO of Fusion Management Solutions Inc., a consulting firm for financial institutions as well as logging, construction and mining companies.
That’s how Pierre Lebel met her.
“She asked to get involved,” said Lebel, chair and director, Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III). “It quickly became apparent that Janine was very keen and should [help] lead that coalition.”
Lebel said North’s experience throughout the resource sector has provided her with well-rounded, in-depth knowledge of what matters to rural B.C. And he wasn’t afraid to list her qualities. Lebel called her engaging, genuine, community-minded, goal-oriented, highly regarded, trusted and respected among northern B.C. leaders.
“I don’t think you could say anything less about Janine, [but] you could say a lot more,” he said.
North, who’s a mother of three grown daughters, said there’s more balance for women in business these days, but it’s still important to recognize those who make a difference in the business community.
As for Northern Development, she has her eyes set on the $2 billion mark for total investment in the north since the trust was created. Northern Development is halfway there, and although it’s going to take a lot more hours to reach her goal, North said it wouldn’t be work.
“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s this,” she said. “It’s energizing, so you never count the hours. It’s a passion.”
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Increasing the confidence, voice and influence of northern B.C. to gain investments like the northwest powerline. That one investment is to us what the Olympics were to Vancouver. Also, facilitating common ground in three regional land-use plans, and taking a resource group of companies to be a top quartile performer in the industry.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
Connecting leaders and influencers in Vancouver and Victoria and Ottawa with the people and the economy of northern B.C., its needs and incredible contribution to the wealth of this province and country. Ensuring that rural B.C. has the infrastructure, education opportunities and quality of life will do more for the provincial GDP than any other investment.
What career decisions would you make differently were you to start out today?
I probably would have chosen commerce over agriculture [for my degree], although being the vice-president of the Agriculture Institute of Canada at 28 was a pivotal point in leadership development for me. I also would have run a logging company before managing a forest district, instead of the other way around.
What’s one business lesson you’d like to pass on to others?
People have a powerful desire to do what is right. Inspire them, create a vision together, reward great behaviours as well as results but demand accountability. Most of all, set your own performance expectations higher than you demand and add value to everything you do or touch.
Is it still relevant to focus on the success and role of women in business?
Yes. We still don’t have the critical mass of great women influencers and leaders that can reach out and inspire each young woman or man to their own diverse ways to lead and mentor the potential within them. We also don’t have enough diversity at Canadian board tables yet to truly capitalize on this country’s potential.
This article from Business in Vancouver March 23-29, 2010; issue 1065
Business in Vancouver has been publishing in-depth local business news, analysis and commentary since 1989. The newspaper also produces a weekly ranked list of the biggest companies and players in a wide range of B.C. industries and commercial sectors, monthly features and industry-focused sections that arm its subscribers with a complete package of local business intelligence each week.
Northern Development Initiative Trust