By Mark Cardwell

Madeleine Paquin doesn’t have a crystal ball and she doesn’t pretend to know the future. But she does have a clear vision of what she thinks the industrial services company her father founded 60 years ago will look like in another 60 years.

“I wish I could say we could revolutionize the world like Apple did,” the President and Chief Executive Officer of Logistec quipped in a long and at times, deeply personal interview via email with Canadian Sailings.

“(But) in our traditional transportation services industry we will have made our mark by being the solutions and service provider of choice, following our customers where their needs are located.

“We will have developed and operated cargo-handling facilities for global mining and other bulk customers, big and small.

“We will have developed and will be operating modern and efficient multi-user cargo-handling terminals for perishables, forest products and biomass and, hopefully, will have retained and grown our privileged relationship with (Mediterranean Shipping Company) and other global container carriers, offering not only port-based container-handling but port-based logistics services for their growing customer base.

“In our environmental services industry,” she added, “our leadership position as site remediation provider and manager of contaminated material in Canada will have further developed in Western Canada as well as expanded in Europe. We will have maintained our technological advantage in our aqueduct rehabilitation business, which will be offered throughout North America and Asia (and) our manufacturing of high-diameter woven hose will have grown based on new needs developed for this specialized piping.”

Paquin’s rosy outlook for the future is understandable. As Logistec prepares to enter its 61st year, the company’s earnings are at an all-time high and several key areas of activity are growing rapidly.

According to Paquin, one of the main drivers of that growth is a well-executed plan in cargo-handling that has led to expansions in both the scope and geography of Logistech’s core business.

“We are now in over 35 terminals in North America, handling a diverse cargo base (that) includes containers, bulk and breakbulk,” she wrote. “We also grew in our Arctic transportation business and now have four vessels calling some 40 communities annually with resupply cargoes.”

Another key driver has been the publicly-traded company’s activities in the field of environmental services, which it entered 20 years ago by acquiring a 73-percent stake in Sanexen Environmental Services, which at the time specialized in PCB management. Since then, Paquin notes, the firm’s annual revenues have increased twenty-fold, from $5 million to more than $100 million.

“With the introduction of IFRS accounting standards, we had to, in our disclosure, remove revenues from joint ventures we manage,” she added. “If we included all of the businesses we nanage, our annual revenues would be (around) $400 million today.”

When she took the helm of her family’s company in 1996 (her two sisters – Suzanne, the oldest, and Nicole – joined the company soon thereafter and work, respectively, in the coastal shipping and cargo handling sides of the business), Logistics revenues were around $100 million.

With a strong management team developed over the years and sticking to the company’s plans and strategies for expansion of its services into Canada and the U.S., Paquin has since spearheaded a series of acquisitions and agreements that have proven immensely profitable.

In particular, stevedoring grew as a result of the purchases of Marine Port Terminals in Georgia and the bulk and breakbulk cargo facilities of Federal Marine Terminals in Montreal.

Just this year, Logistec purchased CrossGlobe Transport, which operates in three terminals in Virginia. In 2009, it also purchased Les Terminaux Rideau Bulk Terminals, which handles road salt and aggregates at four ports along the St. Lawrence and two inland terminals in Ontario.

In addition to a major coal cargo-handling contract in the Port of Sydney, Nova Scotia, and a fresh-fruit cargo-handling agreement at Port Manatee, Florida, that Logistec landed, the company also entered into a partnership with MSC, the world’s second biggest container ship operator, at the port of Montreal. That terminal handles some 500,000 TEUs a year.

Logistec also signed a multi-year agreement with Alcoa Canada in 2011 for Port of Baie-Comeau, and entered other agreements at Port of Brunswick in Georgia to handle growing volumes of biomass headed for Europe.

“Through the years, the services offered in our industry have undergone a huge shift,” Paquin told Logistec shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in April. “From a stevedore or labour broker handling forest products and asbestos to and from ships in the 60s, we have evolved to offer built-to-measure solutions, which encompass specialized terminals, adjoining railroad services, container stuffing, packaging and even the building of temporary docks in Arctic waters.”

In addition to celebrating 60 years in stevedoring, Paquin noted that 2012 also marks 40 years that Logistec entered the field of marine transportation with the 1972 acquistion of Agence Maritime, the forerunner of Transport Nanuk.

Born out of a merger in 1989 with Transport Igloolik and a joint venture with the North West Company, Nanuk later created Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping (NEAS) with Inuit partners in Nunavut and Nunavik.

Since 2000, when NEAS and its Inuit partners acquired a new vessel (the M/V Umiavut), and established a cargo packaging centre near Montreal to offer cargo containerization, packaging and shipping services, the company’s presence and role in Canada’s Arctic region have continued to grow.

Between 2006 and 2011, for example, the company’s cargo volume doubled, making it the fastest-growing marine carrier in the Arctic.

In 2009, NEAS also successfully completed the first commercial sailing through the Northwest Passage with an Inuit-owned, ice class one vessel.

Notably, NEAS’ fleet of four vessels last year completed a total of 13 sailings to 46 destinations across the Arctic.

Paquin is an expert in transportation supply chain management and a highly respected member of the marine community who served as Chair of the St. Lawrence Great Lakes Trade Gateway Leadership Council, co-Chair of the Private Sector Advisory Committee for the Ontario Quebec Continental Gateway and Trade Corridor, and is a member of both the Forum maritime du Québec and the Marine Transportation Advisory Council. She is one of the most prominent female executives in Canada and a Board member of several blue-chip companies and organizations, including Canadian Pacific Railway and the Chamber of Marine Commerce.

In many ways, Logistec’s three anniversary milestones in 2012 are as much a tribute to the efforts and vision of company founder Roger Paquin as they are to the drive and dedication of his three daughters. Paquin said her father was both intense and serious.

“(Our father) instilled in (us) the desire and passion to build, and work hard, and made us realize the values of education and continuous learning, and being grounded in good values,” wrote Madeleine. “(We) all share those characteristics and key success elements.”

“He was a man of few words (and) you did not want to be on his wrong side,” wrote Paquin, who reached a personal milestone of her own earlier this year, when she turned 50. “(But) he was a role model I always fully respected. As a teenager, I certainly didn’t want him catching me doing anything inappropriate. All my friends were (afraid) of him and (so were) many at work. Not many relished to be called into his office.”

She added that despite his severity, her father proved to be an astute businessman and a gifted entrepreneur.

“He was never scared to invest and take calculated business risks that would build the long-term value of the company,” recalled Paquin, “and he surrounded himself with strong characters and always tried to do more for each customer.”

She noted that it was her father’s daring that enabled Logistec to grow from a small stevedoring company in the port of Quebec City in 1952 under the name of Quebec ­Terminals.

“At the time, stevedoring in the port of Quebec was handled by a single company, Albert J. Baker Limited,” Paquin said. “It took (her father) five years (to win) our first major contract with J. Lauritzen Lines.”

That first big deal was the result, she noted, of an audacious move by Roger Paquin. “At the time winter navigation on the St. Lawrence was considered impossible,” wrote Paquin. “My father did not share this opinion.”

By getting authorization to bring a vessel to Quebec City and agreeing to both find Lauritzen Lines cargo for a return trip and finance the operation, Paquin set the stage for the historic entry of the “Helga Dan” into the Port of Quebec on Feb. 13, 1959. After that, ports along the St. Lawrence slowly warmed to the idea of year-round operations. Ships have notably been navigating year-round to Montreal since the early 1970s.

By the time Paquin was born, her father and some partners were in the midst of building a network of ports along the St. Lawrence. “This was done mostly through the purchase of various established and sometimes “broken” companies in what was at the time a fast-evolving industry,” she wrote. “Cargo handling was changing from being labour-intensive to technology-driven. Handling methods needed to be modernized and ship-operators, who were often foreign government-owned shipping companies (that were) managed by local agents, were inefficient and would soon be replaced by private ship-operators using more and more the container mode of transportation.”

Those changes, she added, forced cargo-handling companies to adapt and evolve their services. “(My father) knew operations and was adamant at always being at the forefront of new technologies and cargo-handling methods,” wrote Paquin. “As a matter of fact, he even invited labour representatives to travel with him to Europe to learn new handling techniques. He was also close to his customers and always wanted to improve the services provided to them.”

Paquin said she became close to her father when she was in her teens, thanks to horse-back riding, a passion the two shared.

“He came to shows with me to cheer me on and bet against his friends that I would win against their kids –that really lifted my desire to win,” she recalled. “The bond (between us) became very close and it was at that stage that I developed my desire to join his business. I was just in awe of my dad.”

After studying business administration at University of Western Ontario, Paquin went to work in 1984 for one of her father’s companies – March Shipping – as a sales agent in Toronto.

She returned home to Montreal the following year, and worked on the docks before going back to March Shipping.

“March Shipping was more a headache than a value-generator for Logistec,” recalled Paquin. “The company had leadership issues, and was financially marginal as customers squeezed already thin profits on every occasion.”

Notably, Paquin was part of a new management team that put in place a new international customer network. “Building this company was fun and made me even more passionate about the business,” wrote Paquin, who became President of March Shipping in 1988. “We had lots of success and my dad was proud.”

By then, however, her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He stepped down as President of Logistec, was replaced by his brother Jacques, and died in 1989.

“It was at this time,” Paquin recalled, “that my uncle told me my dad had, in his mind, found his next President. (But) of course, I was too young and inexperienced (to run) Logistec (so) he left this task to (my uncle Jacques).”

Paquin said it’s too soon to predict if or when a third generation of Paquins will lead the company into the future. “One thing I do know is we have some very talented leaders at Logistec today, and we have sophisticated talent management and succession programs which assist us to develop and strengthen this leadership pool to ensure the success of Logistec for the long term,” wrote Paquin.

“We have a great future as long as we continue to listen to our growing customer base and focus our growth on well-developed market intelligence. We are, above all, an industrial services company providing essential services to industrial companies in both Canada and the U.S. If we continue to provide good value to our network of customers, the future is promising.”