A grand adventure: Q&A with Bancroft Minden Forest Company’s Svetlana Zeran
By Ellen Cools
Svetlana Zeran is the general manager of Bancroft Minden Forest Company in Ontario. In 2015, she graduated from Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Forestry, and has since worked for the non-profit sector, government and private industry. The youngest female general manager of a Crown Forest in Ontario, she is currently authoring the next forest management plan for the Bancroft Minden Forest and is in charge of the day-to-day management activities, as well as serving the company’s different shareholders.
CFI: How long have you been involved in forestry?
I graduated from Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Forestry in 2015, and I planted and climbed a lot of trees while going to university to pay for my education. I worked as an arborist for one summer and tree planter for two summers in three different provinces. That was my first taste of the industry.
After graduating from university, I got an amazing opportunity to intern in a dual role with both the Canadian Institute of Forestry based out of Mattawa, Ont., and with the Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society which is based in Edmonton. That one-year internship kickstarted my career. I got to meet a lot of people in the industry through various conferences and workshops, and was connected with mentors as well who helped me gain experience needed later to apply for RPF designation. After my internship, I moved up to northern Ontario, specifically in White River to work out of the White River sawmill for the local sustainable forest license holder, which are based out of Hornepayne. I loved that summer working out of the mill because the company gave me a GPS, a pile of maps, an old beat-up truck and set me loose to supervise the tree plant and conduct silviculture surveys. Every day was an adventure and I often miss that actually.
While working at the mill, Don Larmer, the superintendent, encouraged me to apply to the local Ministry of Natural Resources office in Wawa, where I could assist them through the regulatory side. I took his advice and worked out of Wawa for about a year. I was promoted to the management forester, and that was a real eye-opener. I was just on contract though, and knew I really wanted to get back to working for the industry. So, when a position here at the Bancroft Minden Forestry Company opened up for a planning forester, I jumped on it. After working here for about two years, I was given the opportunity to apply as the general manager. I threw my name in, and here I am.
CFI: What attracted you to the forest industry?
At first, it was definitely the thought of working outside, the adventure component, and feeling that I could positively contribute to the environment through this green sector. As I started getting my first jobs in the industry, though, I became really drawn to the people, because I find everyone I’ve met who works in the industry is super passionate about what they do.
CFI: What is involved in your current role, and what do you like about it?
I’m currently the general manager of a sustainable forest license holder charged with managing the Bancroft Minden Forest, which is one of the most southern Ontario Crown forests. I’m also currently authoring the 2021 to 2031 Forest Management Plan and balancing all the other day-to-day management of the company and serving our 26 different shareholders. I really respect my board of directors and the shareholders that I work for. Many of them own and operate multi-generational businesses like sawmills and logging operations, and I appreciate their commitment to the communities they support. I really enjoy working in a role where I can support these people and businesses because I know how important they are to small, rural towns. I really love the fast pace and challenges of the job, and associated steep learning curve. Every day I’m faced with new problems to solve, and it’s really stretching my brain, but that’s what keeps it exciting.
I have an amazing network of neighbouring general managers to draw on and folks through the Ontario Forest Industries Association, who have offered their advice and support. Everyone’s just been so lovely and willing to share, listen and provide guidance.
CFI: Have you had any mentors in your career thus far?
I’ve been really fortunate to have met a lot of amazing people through the forest sector, and I find everyone has something unique to offer. There’s too many to mention, but a few notable mentors – Jeff Renton, with the Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society. He took a chance on me, gave me my first job opportunity, and was a great role model in demonstrating qualities that I feel make for an exceptional boss.
Lacey Rose, who’s a co-founder of Women in Wood, helped guide and push me to where I am today, and she’s been a great support.
Rick Groves and Lou Freymond, BMFC’s board members who hired me as the general manager, have also been extremely supportive and helpful, as I’ve had to navigate through some tough situations.
In general, I have an amazing network of neighbouring general managers to draw on and folks through the Ontario Forest Industries Association, who have offered their advice and support. Everyone’s just been so lovely and willing to share, listen and provide guidance. I’ve also benefited from working recently with a professional coach, and this woman is helping me with my professional development, which is invaluable.
CFI: Did you come across any challenges as a woman starting out in the industry?
I’d say that, overall, I feel I’ve been extremely fortunate, especially compared to women who have come before me. I’ve heard a lot of their stories and respect the work they did to lay the foundations for greater equality. But there’s definitely been instances where I’ve felt others have maybe not taken me seriously or are just surprised to see a woman in a leadership role, and have underestimated me in the past. I just turned 30 – I’m also the youngest woman general manager ever in Ontario – so I feel like people are always surprised.
CFI: Do you have any advice to share with other women interested in joining the industry?
I would tell every woman who is looking to get in to say yes to opportunities. Don’t be afraid to relocate. Try to view the next opportunity or town as a grand adventure. Don’t be afraid to apply for positions even if you don’t think your qualified, because that’s been a stumbling block for myself, but then someone always pushed me and said, ‘Hey, you never know who else is out there.’ That encouragement has helped me get where I am today. And then just in general, try to have humility and show employers that you have a can-do attitude and you’re excited to be there, because passion goes a long way as well.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry project celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow on social media with the hashtag #WomeninForestry, as well as #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual.