Be Adaptable: An Interview with Linda Hasenfratz
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Linda Hasenfratz, the CEO of Linamar. Linamar is a publicly traded Canadian manufacturing company that operates worldwide. The company is the second largest automotive manufacturer in Canada, building and suppling products to automotive and industrial markets globally. Since her tenure as CEO began, Linda helped grow Linamar sales to over $7.4 billion, and helped the brand expand to become a diversified, global manufacturer of highly engineered products. With 61 manufacturing locations and 10 R&D centers in 17 countries, Linamar has further diversified from auto part manufacturing to include producing agricultural equipment, medical devices, and more. During our conversation, Linda spoke to me about her greatest learnings and successes throughout her entrepreneurial journey. I learned some valuable lessons about adaptability in times of crisis, the importance of philanthropy, the benefits of a multi-stakeholder approach, and thinking boldly.
Adaptability in a Time of Crisis
“Now is a time of a lot of stress. It’s a time where leaders can really grow; like anything, if you’re in a time of adversity, you can be a victim and achieve nothing or you can be a leader and grow. Learn and be stronger and learn more coming out of it than you knew coming into it.”
Linamar has demonstrated resilience throughout past recessionary periods; the most recent economic and social disruption caused by the COVID pandemic is no exception. In less than six weeks, Linamar teams were able to quickly pivot and start producing much-needed ventilators to ship to hospitals treating COVID patients; a prime example of a strategic pivot made under pressure.
“Linamar’s culture is extremely responsive, nimble and fast moving. We are well positioned to manage crisis as a result…We’ve always followed a philosophy of investing in programable equipment that can be shifted from one type of product to another, so we can better align customer demand to line capacity”
Linamar has entered new markets by adapting their current programmable equipment to meet the needs of new and emerging industries. This has enabled them to become more diversified and act with flexibility and speed, even during times of crises, something that has ultimately served as a sustainable competitive advantage.
“We tell our folks, tough times don’t last but tough teams do and we are one tough team.”
“…philanthropy initiatives support our communities which support our employees and that’s important to me as a leader of our business. In supporting women’s initiatives, it also helps our business in terms of achieving better diversity and therefore better results… I feel like it all kind of ties in together”
Linda has a unique approach towards engaging in philanthropic initiatives – philanthropy is not separate from core business activities; it is a driver for them. She does not view one as taking time and effort away from the other. Allowing both to co-exist and thrive has actually created synergies over time. Linda is part of many philanthropic initiatives that aim to support a strong pipeline of talent that flows into Linamar. Programs include providing financial aid to female students enrolled in Western University’s dual Ivey School of Business and Engineering programs, who then also have the opportunity to work at Linamar after their studies are completed.
Success is a Balance
“…we see success when we strike a good balance of customer, employee, and financial satisfaction. So, we really try to run our business to satisfy all three of those stakeholders… We actually symbolize that whole idea by a 3-legged stool. The idea being that each of those stakeholders represent one leg of that stool and if we forget about one of them, then our business falls over. We call it the stepping stool of success.”
Linda speaks about how being a successful leader means considering every stakeholder and taking an individual approach with each. Key stakeholders will have different needs and require unique communication styles; however, all deserve optimal service and undivided attention. Keeping all groups satisfied is step one.
How to Think Boldly
“In my opinion, if you set small goals, you achieve small things and if you set bold goals, you achieve big things. I think when folks are starting out in business, they may set smaller goals and continue inching along. If they set bigger goals, it forces them to think more broadly.”
“Not every company has a 100-year plan, but we do. We tend to have a very long-term focus. When we think future, we are thinking multi-generationally.”
Linda thinks bold. Setting bold goals is frightening for some, as it brings upon the potential for failure; but without dreaming big, achieving greatness can seem less likely over time. By setting aspirational goals, and having a vision for the business, Linamar has been able to surpass expectations. Thinking big and thinking broadly has allowed Linamar to expand, first nationally and then globally, and successfully enter new industries while creating unique opportunities for female entrepreneurs.
On May 21st, from 7:00-8:30pm, Level5 Strategy will be hosting its first ever Women Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, “BusinessWomen of Influence” featuring Linda Hasenfratz.