Josée Kurtz is the Commandant of the Canadian Forces Naval Operations School in Halifax. She has been with the Royal Canadian Navy for 23 years and is the first woman to command a major Canadian navy warship.
What’s your background and education?
I’m from Joliette, Que., a small, blue-collar town. I joined the navy in 1988 after graduating from CÉGEP de Lanaudière in Joliette. I graduated from the University of Ottawa in 2005 with a bachelor of arts in geography and history. I completed a master’s of defence studies through the Royal Military College of Canada at the Canadian Forces Defence College in Toronto in 2007.
How did you get to your position?
Determination, hard work and team contributions in the officership are really what qualified me. Also, the position of commandant of the school calls for an officer who has had command of a warship. Ships operations teams will come to my school to receive team training and have an evaluation, so you need to have someone who has done that job to have the credibility of making an assessment.
What’s the best part of your job?
It’s not a daily grind. If your ship is in home port or if it’s deployed, it’s completely different types of routines. That’s what I like. It’s very dynamic. Because we’re in the military, you don’t know what you’ll be called upon to do. We’re in the business of responding.
What’s the worst part of your job?
There’s no routine! It’s the best and also at times the worst part of the job. The impact is on the home front. It’s fine to have no routine at work, but when you’re called upon to go to sea on very short notice for an unknown period of time, it’s challenging for the family and challenging to have some dedicated personal commitments and interests. It makes it challenging to commit to a charitable organization on a full-time basis because my time is not consistent.
Are you involved with charities?
I work with HMCS Sackville, which is a Second World War Corvette. The organization is working to secure the long-term future of the ship. I’ve been on the board of directors, but part-time now.
I also visit the Camp Hill Veterans’ Memorial hospital in Halifax. I spend a fair amount of time with one veteran in particular. She is a Canadian women’s army corps vet who served in the U.K. during the war.
What are your strengths?
My strengths are my tenacity, my determination, and in terms of the actual work, my awareness and capacity to multitask. As a navy officer, that’s essential.
What are your weaknesses?
I’m not always very patient and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Eventually you have to move on and you can’t always do things perfectly. It’s a constant juggle for me.
What has been your best career move?
Joining the navy is what I call a planned fluke. I always wanted to join the military but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. When I showed up at the recruiting centre in 1988, that’s when the navy was opening its doors to women. That was my best move because I’ve had a most enjoyable 23-year career and have no desire to leave.
What’s your next big job goal?
My major objective is to continue to contribute to the organization at the strategic and, eventually, influencing at the political level within the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence. I hope my current rank is not my last rank.
What’s your best advice?
Set goals for yourself, work hard to achieve your goals, and don’t be afraid to adjust the course if required. For example, I was in the sea-going business when I had my daughter. I worked ashore for a while in human resources, office work, while she was still young. And I signalled when I was ready to come back to the sea-going stream.
An earlier online version of this story incorrectly stated that Josée Kurtz is the first woman to command a Canadian navy warship. This online version has been corrected.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Dianne Nice is The Globe and Mail’s Careers & Workplace Web Editor.
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