Leveraging experiences to inspire change: Q&A with Cynthia Larose, plant manager at Cascades Recovery+
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh
Who: Cynthia Larose
Role: Plant Manager
Employer: Cascades Recovery+
Lives in: Lachine, Quebec
Years in industry: 1
Cynthia Larose has been a part of the pulp and paper industry for just over a year now. At Cascades, she has brought in her 15 years of operations experience in the aeronautics industry to inspire change and encourage positive continuous improvement.
Pulp & Paper Canada: How and why did you come to join the pulp and paper industry?
Cynthia Larose: My entry into this industry was more for the company itself. I came here after a long stint in the aeronautics industry. I worked for 15 years in an aerospace company.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration and I majored in management. So, I have an operational, logistics and supply management background. That’s what I did for 15 years, just with a different kind of product.
A position opened up for plant manager at Cascades, which is very well known among companies in Quebec. So I was interested in the company itself. I liked the company’s environmental philosophy and green values as well. That led me to apply for this position.
I did not really choose the industry. I decided to join the company for the challenge that was here. Despite coming in with a different experience, I was not scared of entering the pulp and paper industry.
P&PC: Although you still work in an operational role, pulp and paper and aeronautics industries are very different. What was it like when you started here initially?
CL: It did cross my mind in the beginning that pulp and paper is a completely new industry for me with a different market situation.
There are so many different aspects such as the market trends and all the things that influence the business.
What also changed was the people management aspect. We have so many different types of people working here, whether they are machinists or forklift operators, and so on. So, I had to adjust to the type of manpower and the demographics of the people I manage.
The learning curve was really great. I have to give kudos to my colleagues who extended a warm welcome and were very helpful from the get-go.
For me, moving from the aeronautics industry to pulp and paper was all about changing my mindset. In aeronautics, you are building engines that will fly in the sky. People’s lives depend on them. So there are a lot of rules in place and the entire setup is very rigid. It is structured, highly organized and involves a lot of red-tape.
From that, I entered into pulp and paper, in a company where most of the plants are managed like medium-sized businesses. It is a very traditional space. You have leverage over a lot of processes that are not so strict and rigorous in comparison. That was something that I had to adapt to.=
All my colleagues took time to explain how we price things, the manufacturing process, other processes, the quality aspect, the impact of good quality on the final product, and so on.
I’ve been here for a little over a year now. I’m nowhere near being an expert but I have grasped everything well. This was possible because of all the time that my colleagues have spent explaining things and answering all my questions.
I am lucky to be surrounded by the right people.
P&PC: As a plant manager, what does your day look like?
CL: Coming from an aeronautics background, I like it when things are structured.
So, the first thing I like to do every day is getting a good touchpoint with my entire team. I start my day writing and responding to emails. And then I do a roundtable meeting with the entire team. I have discussions with the health and safety department and human resources. We discuss things such as: Do we have any incidents? Is everybody here? Do we have any issues with manpower?
We go through all the processes in the plant. We discuss if from the supply standpoint, from the transportation standpoint, from the processing standpoint, from the shipment standpoint, where we are at.
With the ongoing pandemic, a lot of people are working from home. So a lot of these discussions happen virtually. We also have a lot of interactions with the other Cascades plants.
Right now, a big focus for us is health and safety. It is always important but since last year we are focussing on lean and continuous improvement.
My role is about supporting the different teams in the plant and help the team members achieve their goals. I see myself as the glue that holds all the teams together, helping everyone communicate well with each other.
A lot of contractors also come in regularly for taking care of sprinkler systems and the different machines. There are people that do preventative maintenance or manage our mobile equipment. So, I spend time building relationships with them as well.
P&PC: Have you worked on improving any processes at the plant?
CL: I believe in continuously improving processes, instead of jumping to conclusions and solutions.
In general, operations people are really good firefighters. We love to save the day. It fuels our confidence and accomplishments. But, I’m really happy to slow down our people a little bit. I tell my team that we are not saving lives at the moment. So, we can take a step back and take the time to reflect on what we are trying to do. We have to figure out what actually happened, what our end goal is and whether we are letting ourselves get distracted from that purpose.
We need to have a clear action plan for everything. But, from a resolution standpoint, we have to identify the root cause of an issue instead of implementing changes without actually fixing the issue.
There is always a possibility that we misread the situation or misidentify the cause. So, I always suggest that take a breather. If you are able to take quick decisions, that’s great; but it can go against you.
P&PC: In the one year that you have been at Cascades, do you have a favourite project that you worked on?
CL: So, we built this team that we call ‘Team Collaboration’. It is a group of Cascades plant managers across Canada. We meet every other week for an hour. The meetings are not very structured. They focus on building relationships and a network of people that can lean on each other. This was something that was not being done before.
We got to know each other, even personal details like who likes to ski and who has children. Who has good people skills and who can manage mental health the best. Discussions go into topics like good processes and auditing.
I’m really proud that I was able to initiate this. There are many operations projects that I have worked on in the plant, but they are team achievements. And after I initiated it, everyone was really excited to join in.
P&PC: Do you have any particular success story that you would like to share?
CL: I do have a great success story. When I joined, I had noticed that this plant had a lot of equipment and assets in the yard that were no longer being used. There were trailers parked there with material that we were not going to process. They could be either sent to a landfill or we could find another life for these products through recycling.
Also, the shop itself was not organized in a neat and orderly fashion. So, over the course of the year, we have engaged the whole team in cleaning and organizing everything. It is like spring cleaning in your house, but you need a whole year to do it. This has to be done a little bit every day.
At the same time, we needed to change the mindset of the people. We explained why we are doing this. It is not just cleaning, we are removing clutter as well. We also have to see in our numbers what really makes sense and where we need to focus.
It was not just one project. It was a combination of so many small projects. For example, one week we decided to tackle three trailers. And then another week, we decided to clean the warehouse or paint lines and identify which products go in those lines.
We tackled everything bit by bit and it really changed the look and feel of the plant. We had subcontractors, suppliers and customers come in and appreciate how the plant looked.
If you think about it, we have done a lot and at the same time, not much. But now, everything is easily accessible to people. Everything item has its place and ask is to keep putting things back in their places.
We’ve implemented a structure where when people walk the floor, they have checklists to identify issues and fix them right away. There is also a mechanism where employees can suggest opportunities for continuous improvement. We put that on a board and then address them one by one. We have this continuous feed of improvement opportunities.
Employees have shared that they now feel pumped to come to work. They are also able to find tools easily. The entire project had a huge impact in terms of employee engagement.
P&PC: What has your experience been as a woman in this industry?
CL: I have never been treated differently for being a woman. And being a woman has never stopped me from doing anything that I needed or wanted to do. This has been true throughout my career. I take the same approach here. I’m not afraid of voicing my opinions. are
I would like to add that there are women here, even though not as many as in banking or nursing. There are more women here than I had expected.
Bias does exist in the workplace, such as sending a guy in for some work as he is stronger. There are health and safety rules such as men can lift up to 40 pounds versus women can lift up to 25 pounds. I feel that lifting 40 pounds would be unhealthy for everyone, men and women. On the flip side, women can be in great shape and well-suited for tough jobs.
I do understand that for certain jobs, such as forklift operator or lead hand, it can be difficult being a woman. People might look at you differently. It is difficult during promotions as the pool of women forklift operators is really small.
In our Ottawa plant, a woman was recently promoted to a supervisor role. She is doing great and it was very well received by everyone.
P&PC: What, according to you, should the industry do to support women to move into roles of their choice?
CL: It is important to promote different roles and different degrees that are required to apply for positions in this industry. The industry should encourage young women in high schools to follow the different training courses available for this industry. There are so many different courses, for example engineering, biology and chemistry, that could lead to jobs in the forestry sector. The industry has to make a conscious effort to give everyone a fair chance.
Organizations in the pulp and paper industry can spend some extra time with their women employees to understand where they stand. They should question themselves whether they have good committees and leadership groups for women to talk about the concerns of women or their day-to-day jobs. Do women have the platform to discuss their work schedules and taking care of their children? If the women have male bosses, they might often not have the space to discuss these issues.
It is essential to ensure that there is presence of women in general around the workspace so that they are able to support the next generation of women.
Sometimes in our plants we have 35 people, for example, of which only three or four are women. So, they need to have all resources available in case they are going through difficult situations.
P&PC: This industry needs more people. How can it attract the young generation to come and work here?
CL: I wish I had a solution for this! I think we need to listen to what the young generation has to say and understand their point of view. We need to know what excites them about a workplace in general.
We have a partnership with a university here. We have two students come in as interns every semester. They join us for a term of four months. They get here and we decide objectives with them. I’m interested in finding out what excites them, is it travelling or do they like administration, and so on. We can then find positions for them that suit their interests.
P&PC: Being new here yourself, what advice would you give to a woman looking to build a career in this industry?
CL: This is general advice for any industry and any role. Never pretend to be someone you’re not.
As an individual, you have value and you can bring something different to the team. I don’t think we should put all women in the same bucket as everyone is so different.
The second thing is, be ready to listen and learn from all the people who have been working here. Ask questions to understand the other point of view.
And be ready to roll up your sleeves and put in the hard work. Show that you are part of the team. Success will follow.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtags: #WomeninForestry, #IWD2022 and #BreaktheBias.
Remember to join us for the Women in Forestry Virtual Summit on Mar. 8 at 11 am ET/8 am PT! It’s FREE to register. Sign up now!