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Insider: Linda Hasenfratz

Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz: The biggest motivation to have more women in business or on boards is because you double your potential in the talent pool.

Who Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive officer and a director of Linamar Corp. (TSX:LNR) of Guelph, Ont., a position she has held since 2002. Linamar, ranked 31st among the top 100 automotive parts suppliers in North America, also has operations in Europe and Asia.

Involvement Long a role model for women in a male-dominated sector, in 2014 Hasenfratz became the first woman in Canada to win the Ernst & Young national Entrepreneur of the Year Award. That victory, in turn, earned her an invitation to compete for World Entrepreneur of the Year, in a five-day showdown this June with all the country winners in Monaco. Hasenfratz didn’t win, but was proud to be part of the contest’s biggest—but still rather modest—contingent of national female winners.

Listed You’re just back from five days in Monaco at the World Entrepreneur of the Year contest. What’s that experience like?

Linda Hasenfratz I really enjoyed it. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet entrepreneurs from around the world and learn about them, and hear some pretty amazing stories of people building businesses, in some cases through immense adversity. It was very inspiring.

Listed But there’s also a contest going on and a world title at stake, so what’s the agenda when you’re there?

Linda Hasenfratz There’s a conference, with all kinds of great speakers, that you can participate in. That gives you an opportunity to interact with the other entrepreneurs. There is judging going on as well. Although the judges have been given the packages ahead of time, you do need to meet with them during the week and sort of pitch your story.

Listed You’re the first woman named Entrepreneur of the Year in Canada. Were there a lot of women there from other countries?

Linda Hasenfratz There were 53 countries represented. Some countries had joint winners, for instance cofounders of a company. So I think it was more like 65 entrepreneurs who were there. And out of that group we had six women. Which is, [laughs] I believe, a 300% improvement over last year. This was, I think, the biggest year yet for women, so that was great to see.

Listed You mentioned pitching your story. Part of that includes being a female leader in a male-dominated sector. That’s hardly new for you, but within the sector, since you’ve been running Linamar, have you noticed any significant changes?

Linda Hasenfratz Absolutely. I think just broadly we’re seeing huge increases in terms of the number of women in leadership roles, on boards, in science and engineering schools. I think we’re seeing a huge shift. If you look 20 or 30 years ago to today, we’re seeing four or five times the number of women in those kinds of roles or that type of education. So I think we’re seeing enormous progress.

Listed Gender diversity is a focus, of course, in C-suites and boards. What are your thoughts on progress there?

Linda Hasenfratz I think the biggest motivation to have more women in business or on boards is because you double your potential in the talent pool. To only draw from half of the population, you’re limiting yourself. By expanding your horizons to 100% of the population you double your chances of finding fantastic talent. To me, that’s the bottom line.

Listed Within the director community, we’ve seen growing emphasis on mentoring and other mechanisms to provide access into the club. Does that help?

Linda Hasenfratz Tapping into the community to find talented women who are board ready, if we’re talking specifically about boards, I’ve certainly seen that and I think it makes a lot of sense. If we can reach out and get a list of names of board-ready women, it’s a good way to fill the pipeline so that some of these great, talented and capable women are coming to the attention of the nominating committees that are looking for new board membership.

Listed This is the first year for the Ontario Securities Commission’s “comply or explain” regime on board and management diversity. How has Linamar approached that requirement?

Linda Hasenfratz We already had a policy in place. So it’s not like it inspired us to put a policy in place, whereas it may do that for other companies who don’t. We already had a policy at Linamar of always wanting to always ensure proportionate representation of women at all levels of the company. So if we’re 20% women, then we should have 20% women at every level of management including the board. That’s our very simple and basic philosophy, that I think makes sense. By putting it in context of another company, if they have 50% women, then they should have 50% women in management right up to their board. So that’s our strategy and we’re in compliance with our strategy and our policy.

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