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Illustration of Nancy Southern, president and chief executive officer, Atco Ltd. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Illustration of Nancy Southern, president and chief executive officer, Atco Ltd. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Atco’s Nancy Southern: A firm grip on the reins of the family firm Add to ...

At the Ranchmen’s Club, which was founded in 1891 by seven ranchers, a banker, and a barrister, Ms. Southern warmly greets staff and selects a table for two by a window. It overlooks the private club’s lawn, one greener than the grass on the other side of the street. Four small cubes of white, sharp cheese beat us to the table. Ms. Southern slices one thinly before eating. She lunches on a double order of the oyster appetizer, eating them with a seafood fork, rather than slurping them down happy hour-style. I order the sea bass after she praises it. We finish with Earl Grey tea for her and peppermint for me.

Ms. Southern, who used to keep fishing rods in the trunk because you just never know when a pond might present itself, flirts with the idea of getting back to riding horses more seriously. She’s smitten with a dark bay four-year-old named Vandalo. She doesn’t own the horse, and is not quite sure whether she can commit. But Vandalo is easy to ride, never pulls, and is quiet and smart. “That’s why I said I think I want to ride more,” she says. “I fell in love with this horse.”

Coming from her, that says a lot. Her husband, equestrian Jonathan Asselin, was a member of the 2000 Olympic show jumping team in Sydney and returned to the Beijing Games in 2008 as a reserve rider for Team Canada. Her sister Linda, who runs Spruce Meadows, also represented Canada at the Olympics.

Ms. Southern could have her pick of horses. She and her husband run Attache Stables, grow their own hay, maintain trails, and put horses high on their list of priorities.

How high? Ms. Southern points to the Christmas gift she gave her husband a few years ago. “A new manure wagon. So there you go.”

CURRICULUM VITAE

BACKGROUND

Born in Calgary; 56 years old

Married to Jonathan Asselin; three children: Kelly, Kyle and Ben

Studied economics and commerce at the University of Calgary

EXPERIENCE

Thirty-five years with Atco

Served as a director at Shell Canada Ltd. and Bank of Montreal

VERBATIM

On productivity: Our productivity today in Canada is something that makes me very, very, very worried. Never mind the fact that we’ve got a basically at par exchange rate. Our productivity level versus the United States is about 20 to 25 per cent worse than the United States. And that should give every Canadian cause for alarm.

On competitiveness: I think Americans have always had pretty good productivity. We, on the other hand, have wonderful social benefits. And as a Canadian I’m so proud of that. And I’m very happy that whatever we are seen to have to bear as taxpayers, we should be bearing because it is the best country club in the world. It is not any different than paying your membership fees. This is the best country in the whole world. But we have to remain flexible. We have to be able to react to to changing times. And if we protect certain industries or certain regions for whatever reason, we don’t remain competitive.

On retraining Canadians: I understand people don’t want to move. Canadians don’t want to pick up roots and have to move. But I also do believe if we could get more Canadians that don’t have jobs trained to work, even if they do have to move, I think that’s better. .. If we can find people a path, an avenue, to get them to where the jobs are and get the training on the job, and that needs to be an effort between government and business to be able to do that, then I think it would make our country a lot stronger and a lot better.

On temporary foreign workers: When you get somebody looking to work someplace else and make money and have an opportunity to succeed, they don’t get to participate, and we’re making it so hard for them to become landed immigrants. And where we get the real benefit from the foreign workers, in my mind, is when they become part of the community, where they are not sending all their money back to their families. When they understand: ‘I can work. If I do really well, I can bring my family here, they can have a better life.’ That’s what our country was born on and we need to embrace that.

 

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