Powering through together
Meet Western’s Chancellor, Linda Hasenfratz
Linda Hasenfratz, BSc’89, EMBA’97, LLD’ 19, was installed as Western’s 23rd chancellor last year. Here, the CEO of Linamar Corporation shares her thoughts on leading, learning and living life to the fullest with Alumni Gazette assistant editor Keri Ferguson.
How does it feel to serve as chancellor of your alma mater?
It means a lot to me personally from the perspective that I came here for my own education, and all four of my kids are Western students or alumni. More broadly, I think Western is a wonderful institution. I’m proud to be part of its life for a period of time and to work with Alan (Shepard), who I think is a wonderful leader, doing a great job right out of the gate in a very tough year.
You led Linamar through the 2008-09 economic downturn and now through the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think is key to leading a business – or an academic institution – through a global crisis?
I think in times of uncertainty, the best thing you can do is communicate extensively. That’s been a big part of our strategy at Linamar – over communicating with our stakeholders, whether it be our employees, our customers, our shareholders, our bankers, our suppliers. Similarly, I think the university, given the uncertainty our students and recent graduates are facing, should communicate as much as possible. And, you don’t have to have all the answers. I think it’s valuable to hear, ‘Here’s what I know. Here’s what I don’t know. I’m going to come back to you with answers on the things I don’t know.’
What is your message to your stakeholders and to our students?
We are going to get through this. We’re going to learn something from it and there is an end. Tough times don’t last, but tough teams do. And we’re one tough team.
I think it’s important everyone realize that like in other challenging times, we’ll make our way through and come out on the other side. How we come out is very much related to our attitude when we’re in it. We can take adversity as something we run and hide from, or we can take it to be something we learn and grow from and look for options.
What did you gain and learn from lockdown?
I gained time with my family. Time with my four adult children living at home, which I would not have had otherwise. I loved it. I don’t know that my kids would necessarily agree!
Professionally, we learned we can do a lot of things remotely, which I never dreamed of doing before, but I thought, ‘I’m going to give it a whirl.’ It wasn’t fantastic, but it was okay.
On the other hand, we learned how important it is to be together as a team. There’s a lot we’re missing out on – team cohesion, teamwork and the camaraderie that comes from working together. It’s much more formal to interact on Zoom or Teams. You have to book it, you can’t just stick your head in someone’s office and if they’re free, talk to them. I think an enormous amount of creativity and innovation comes from informal interactions.
Linamar has diversified over the years in response to changing markets and trends. How do you stay ahead of the curve and take the right risks?
I try and stay informed about what’s happening around a wide variety of topics that may impact our business, whether it be in terms of our markets and products and technologies, or just in terms of people and interactions to learn how we can better work as a team, and think strategically for our business.
I spend a lot of my day reading articles and research to understand factually what’s going on. That in itself is a really important lesson.
While I think Western, and universities in general do a great job of teaching critical thinking, we have more information available to us today than we’ve ever had in history. And yet, I feel we’re less informed than we’ve ever been. With the volume of information, we’re not doing a good enough job evaluating, questioning and validating it.
I encourage Western students to go out and seek information. Don’t just take what comes streamed to you, which feeds your bias. Force yourself to look at other sources. Read what people are saying about the other side. Look for thoughtful analysis, look for facts. Seek diversity of opinion and then come up with your own positions. You can’t make good decisions without considering all sides.
You went to the White House in 2017 and sat at a roundtable on women in the workforce as part of the Canada-United States Council for the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. What was that like?
It was interesting, and an issue the president and the prime minister were aligned around. That bilateral council was made up of five American companies and five Canadian companies, the CEOs of which were all women. It was a great opportunity to offer some thoughts and advice to both governments as well as the private sector, on what more we could do to encourage women entrepreneurs and women
Your family and company are acting on that, supporting women pursuing a dual-degree in business and engineering at Western with scholarships, co-op placements and job offers.
The dual-degree that Western uniquely offers is such a great combination and really marketable in terms of being able to go out and get a job and move yourself into leadership. Supporting this program was a direct way we could help women to step into those roles. There’s the financial aspect, but also, importantly, the experiential element in offering them a summer job in years three and four and a job upon graduation.
I’m a big believer in experiential learning. Work-integrated learning, co-op opportunities and internships are really key in preparing young people for their careers.
Is that influenced by your own experience, starting at Linamar on the factory floor?
Yes, and making my way around the company and really learning it from the ground up. I started as a machine operator, then went on to engineering quality, production control, accounting, estimating, etc. I really got a great viewpoint of the business from all perspectives, which I encourage young people to get if they aspire to leadership.
Eventually, you managed one plant, two plants, working your way up to CEO. How did you negotiate assuming that role with your father?
In 2002, he suggested it was time for me to become CEO, and I said, ‘Well, that sounds like a great idea. But if I’m CEO, what are you going to do?’ And he said, ‘The same thing I’m doing now.’ Well that wasn’t going to work, obviously. I thought we should agree on the things he would do as executive chairman, and I would do everything else as the CEO. We went around it for a few weeks and I finally cornered him on an airplane and we wrote down the three things we agreed he was going to do. Then I made him sign the paper because he always taught me to make people sign right away when you agree! To this day, I still have that paper in my desk.
My father has always been an inspiration for me. He’s the consummate entrepreneur, always looking for opportunities to grow. He motivates me and the rest of the team at Linamar. It’s pretty fantastic to think we’ve had that inspiration for more than 50 years.
In addition to education, your family also generously supports the arts and health care. What motivates you to give?
I think we’ve developed a holistic approach around our philanthropy that just organically grew out of how I live my life. Supporting education is supporting your mind, supporting healthcare is supporting your body, and supporting the arts is supporting your soul. Life’s a balance of all three.
What do you do to relax and recharge?
I’m a big exercise enthusiast, so I work out every day. Anyone in a high stress job needs a physical outlet to help maintain their health. I’m a very social person, so I like to spend time with friends and entertain. And I love to cook.
What is your philosophy of life?
Number one, you can do a lot more than you think. I think we underestimate our ability to take on more. I find when you have a very full plate, life expands to accommodate. And secondly, in a related way, I think you should live every moment of your life. Don’t wait until the end to look back, thinking you left something on the table. Do as much as you can, squeeze as much into a day as you can, because you get so much out of life when you do that.
Born, raised and resides in Guelph, Ont. Her father, Frank, started Linamar in the basement of their family home in 1964, naming the company in honour of Linda, her sister, Nancy, and their mother, Margaret.
Linda and her husband, Ed Newton, have four children: Katie (HBA’19, BESc’19, Mechanical Engineering), Emily (HBA’20, BESc’20, Mechanical Engineering), Tommy (Year 2, HBA) and Olivia (Year 3, Media, Information & Technoculture).
Linda received her Doctor of Laws from Western in 2019.
CEO of Linamar Corporation, a diversified manufacturing company serving access, agriculture and automotive markets worldwide with more than 60 factories across North America, Europe and Asia.
Select Awards & Honours
- Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year (2019)
- Order of Canada (2018)
- Appointed to Canada’s NAFTA Council (2017)
- Canadian Business Hall of Fame Inductee (2016)
Select Board Service
- Co-Chair, Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders
- Chair, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada
- Director, ROM Board of Governors
- Member, Business Council of Canada
- Member, Ivey Advisory Board
This article appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of Alumni Gazette