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Management Mary Lohmus: ‘Trust your gut when you’re in a decision-making role, certainly in hiring’

Mary Lohmus, executive vice-president, Ontario and western Canada, Goodfellows Inc tours the company's Campbellville yard on April 30, 2019.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Mary Lohmus is the executive vice-president, Ontario and Western Canada, at Goodfellow Inc., Montreal’s first lumber yard in 1898, now with 14 regional centres across Canada, the United States and Britain. In supplying projects worldwide, annual sales are more than $500-million with 900 employees.

I was born in Toronto, went to high school in Etobicoke, essentially growing up in the family lumber yard. I’m the youngest, the only one of four children who really had much interest. There was no expectation to work there; it was something I enjoyed. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. My first job was a bank teller, then I went into the lumber business in administration.

I took about a year off between high school and university, working both jobs for a while. I was always good in math, my dad an accountant. I wanted to move away and experience university life. I liked my Grade 13 geography teacher, so chose urban planning at the University of Waterloo. I took some science courses, didn’t know what they were talking about and walked out. I did several engineering and landscape-architecture courses; I certainly enjoyed working with how things were built and the building industry, absolutely.

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I graduated in 1982, a recession, had one interview for a job I was interested in, in Ottawa. I didn’t get it. Sitting at my parents’ place, my dad begged: “Just come short-term until you find something.” I stayed [at our family lumber business] 15 years. At a small company, you do everything. I did sales, was a buyer when he retired. Years ago, in sales, I walked into this man’s office. He looked me up and down, head to toe, so obvious with his eye and head movements: “What the eff could you know about wood?” I said, “Obviously not enough for you,” and left. But he was a customer, so when he’d call, I’d pass him to the worst salesman.

Deciding to leave my father’s company, I went for an interview at a lumber wholesaler. The guy said – the first minute – “So are you going to have more kids?” I walked out. I knew people in the company and asked how they could work for him. Of course, they were all men and apologized for him. When I went to the Goodfellow’s interview, I said to the gentleman, “Can I give you a tip before we start? Please don’t ask if I’m having more kids because that interview didn’t go well.” He laughed and we hit it off.

I started in sales, then product management. There were women in admin – there’s always women in admin – better than most men as they’re detail-oriented. There was a female vice-president, they introduced us. She was an inspiration, now retired, and we’re still friends. In 1999, I did a fantastic industrial distribution certificate, I think one other woman, maybe 35 people. To know others in the industry from all over, it didn’t matter being male or female. I moved up to assistant general manager, general manager, then vice-president. There was certainly room to move even though it’s a very male-dominated business. In 2016 I became EVP.

My days are never dull, nor do I have two hours the same, which keeps me young and makes my job interesting. I still manage a few accounts despite advice from most business coaches to let go as you rise. For me, it’s a way to stay connected to the business. Since I’m an industry veteran and essentially worked in lumber and building materials throughout my career, I have the benefit of a large network I’m able to consult.

The lumber industry needs to be developed [with] longevity in mind, to encourage people to continue to work with wood. We work quite a bit with school boards and some colleges with woodworking courses, donating products so they can teach students.

There’s certain nuances and situations where the good old-fashioned telephone works well, and I visit all seven branches under my direction fairly frequently. One thing I live by is to treat people like you’d like to be treated. It’s important in business and in life – so often we forget that on the business side. I don’t think that’s ever failed me. [Also,] trust your gut when you’re in a decision-making role, certainly in hiring.

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