2013 Winners

Thunder Bay | Executive of the Year

Tracy Buckler

Tracy Buckler

There's a sign in Tracy Buckler's office that sums up her approach to her profession: Take your work seriously, but never yourself.

Maintaining a sense of humour is a quality that's served her well over her 28-year career in health care.

"That's so important," said the president and CEO of St. Joseph's Care Group in Thunder Bay. "It's such a stressful time for people and we need to really lighten up."

But when asked about her management style, Buckler doesn't stray far from the lessons learned from her days as a clinical nurse.

"People would say I'm quite forthright. I will always tell you how it is. But I'll tell you the truth which might not always be the best news. People would know I'm trustworthy and reliable and if I say something they will generally believe it."

Buckler oversees an organization of 1,700 employees with a $130-million operating budget and a capital planning and redevelopment fund of more than $150 million.

Founded in 1884 by the Catholic nuns of Sault Ste. Marie, the St. Joseph's Care Group comprises a series of facilities engaged in complex care and physical rehabilitation, mental health and addiction services, and long-term care facilities.

Since being appointed CEO in 2005, Buckler has shepherded major multi-million-dollar capital projects in the city while transferring programs and staff into new facilities.

Buckler has been called a "leader in a period of unprecedented change and growth" for health care in Thunder Bay.

In relinquishing acute care services, the administration was faced with the task of uniting staff at eight sites across the city into one cohesive organization. Bridging those cultural divides is a "massive" undertaking, Buckler said.

"The merging of cultures is probably the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity to make something better," said Buckler. "If you believe relationships trump everything then that's where you need to start. But change can be hard for people."

Raised in the mining town of Wawa, the Sault College nursing grad came to Thunder Bay in 1985 looking for work to support her soon-to-be husband, Philip, in his academic studies at Confederation College.

Buckler landed a job in the post-op surgical unit at St. Joseph's Hospital on Algoma Street on the same August day she drove into town.

"I literally walked in with a resumé and there was assistant director of nursing, Janet Slivinski, who brought me up the stairs to meet Sister Bonnie MacLellan, the head nurse on 2 North, who was cleaning shelves in the utility room."

Buckler counts MacLellan as a mentor who saw something special in her.

"She really made me think about what I wanted to do with my career. I never, ever, got bored at St. Joe's and got to work in so many areas. It was fantastic.

Having higher ambitions to move into management never crossed her mind.

"I don't believe I had a set career plan or pathway as people often do. I was delighted to be a front line clinical nurse."

With time and experience, Buckler found herself moving up the ladder into different managerial positions.

Buckler said another supporter, Carl White, her CEO predecessor, was part of a very supportive group that nurtured her growth and development. "I'm going to be totally biased here, but it's a great place to work."

Among her biggest challenges these days is making sure front line workers have the resources to do their job while working within budget parameters as capital redevelopment continues on.

Among her biggest challenges these days is making sure front line workers have the resources to do their job while working within budget parameters as capital redevelopment continues on.

"We work by consensus, and make sure we can live with the outcome. We don't always agree and there's always room for healthy debate, but we come to agreement and live with it. "

The most satisfying moments are at the ribboncuttings when all the administrative heavy lifting is done.

"When we've reached the end and there are people in the building and they're saying, 'Wow this is great,' that's very satisfying. Those moments are what give me a great deal of pride and why I love to be here."

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