2007 Alumni

Northeast Public Sector

Marianne Berube
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Marianne BerubeWith a Northern Ontario forest industry looking for an answer to its flagging fortunes, Marianne Bérubé has spent seven years asking all the right questions.

As the Ontario director of Wood WORKS!, an industry-backed initiative to promote the use of wood in non-residential markets, Bérubé has helped to directly influence 85 projects in Ontario to use wood instead of steel or concrete, a feat worth up to $54 million in Northern wood product sales.

“If you look at Europe and the Scandinavian countries, they take pride in wood, and we don’t,” Bérubé says.

“In Ontario, it’s the second-biggest contributor to our economy, and people don’t get that. When I mention it in, they are wowed because they didn’t realize how important it is and that we need to support that industry.”

After spending 18 years within various managerial roles in the North Bay banking industry, Bérubé found in 2000 that further job growth would only be possible by transferring to another city, which was not an option given that her husband, André, is a North Bay police officer.

With a growing sense of frus-tration, she decided to cast caution to the wind by exploring different career avenues. When Wood WORKS! sought to establish its first Ontario pilot project in North Bay that same year, she jumped at the chance, and leveraged her skills into her current role.

Her background in banking initially left her with little expe-rience in the wood construction sector, however, her endless tenacity and determination has made all the difference.

“When I first got the job, even my husband turned to me and said, ‘What do you know about wood?’ But I love a challenge, and it just goes to show that with enough determination and will to act, you can develop a good skill set and do anything you put your mind to.”

Foremost among the challen-ges is to develop a wood cul-ture in the minds of industry decision-makers, city planners and architects, who believe that non-residential construction is synonymous with steel. She offers one-on-one technical support for wood projects and has created re- gional seminars and an annual Wood Solutions Fair as testament to her passion to convert industry professionals into thinking wood first. In fact, she even convinced former Minister of Natural Re-sources John Snobelen to insti-tute a ministry policy mandating the use of wood in its projects.

“We still have a long way to go, but we’re incrementally making our mark. We look at 85 per cent of our wood being shipped south of the border, and if we could just change 10 per cent and use that much more wood in Ontario, it would make a huge difference for our forest industry.”

Another key to instituting a province-wide wood culture was the creation of an annual awards program.

Having overseen the creation of a similar program in the banking industry, she saw the need to translate that type of recognition to the wood industry, and with Jim Lopez, now the president and CEO of Tembec, she created the Wood WORKS! Annual Awards Gala in 2000.

In its inaugural year, the awards were held in North Bay and attended by 120 people; in 2006, a sold-out crowd of 350 people from around the province converged in Toronto to attend the awards. Bérubé and other event organizers are targeting a turnout of 450 this year.

As a result, the awards initiative Bérubé refers to as her “baby” has since been adopted in British Columbia and Alberta.

This focus on encouraging wood champions has been instrumental to the industry, according to the president of the Ontario Forest Industry Association. “It’s almost as though it’s more than a job for Marianne; it’s more of a life passion, and her passion for this is contagious, which is our biggest asset and it’s what we’ve benefited most from,” says Jaime Lim.

“I’d hate to think where we would be in branding the use of wood if Wood WORKS! had not flourished under Marianne’s leadership in the last seven years. That’s a thought I don’t even want to consider, and it really is that significant.”

With two-thirds of her spring and fall spent on the road pursuing these initiatives, Bérubé holds family time sacred.

However, with her 25-year-old son Alain working as a real estate analyst in Calgary, her 23-year-old daughter Michelle graduating from health sciences at the University of Ottawa and due to leave for humanitarian work in Malawi, and a husband busy with shift work, shared time can be difficult to arrange. As such, she and her husband spend their summers living out of their cottage located on the shores of Lake Talon, a half-hour from the city. There, she maintains a half-acre flower garden and uses her private time with loved ones to recover from the personal wear and tear of constantly being on the road. “I really value my family time, and I’ve found through the years that it brings you back into balance away from work.”

Despite their scattered loca-tions, she’s thankful that her business travels occasionally allow her to drop in to visit her children, of whom she is fiercely proud.

These travels have also allowed her to build a sort of second family, as the forest industry and the many communities it touches are practically a family unto themselves, she says.

“I see everybody as I move around the province, and there’s always a big hug and kiss, and a ‘great to see you,’ so it’s been very rewarding, very touching and heartwarming getting to know industry and community leaders in Northern Ontario.”