By Brian Dunn

The Traffic Club of Montreal (TCM) welcomed Sylvie Vachon, President and CEO of Montreal Port Authority, as its speaker at its second annual International Women’s Day luncheon on March 6 at the Auberge Saint-Gabriel.

TCM is a non-profit organization which has been bringing together transportation and logistics professionals since 1926. Its mandate is to unite transportation, logistics and industry partners in professional networking venues. The Club’s mandate includes ‘giving back’ and provides an annual scholarship, available to the daughter, son or grandchild of a TCM member, for first year university. This year it will also provide a scholarship to both CIFFA and CITT.

Instead of giving a speech, Ms. Vachon was asked to respond to a series of questions by Paule Genest who runs her own communications firm. Under the theme, “When in doubt – take action,” Ms. Vachon outlined some of her work experiences in both the public and private sector that led her to her current position. “Although I’ve had an extensive career, I never had a career plan. I just accepted the different challenges that presented themselves.” As a CEO, Ms. Vachon said her skills as a negotiator are very useful and she considers herself a “good team player,” an important asset when listening to other team members. As for a typical day at the office, the Port boss said she regularly meets with a number of people in the shipping industry and physically tours the port facilities “to see what’s happening.”

One of the biggest challenges for a woman in business is to balance a career with a family life. “It’s not easy, whether you are President and CEO, or anyone else. You have to be organized.” Ms. Vachon admitted that family life sometimes interfered with her career, but that was her choice. She originally didn’t “put my name in the hat” to succeed former Port boss Dominic Taddeo in 2007, because she had a young son at home, but she did when the position opened up again two years later because the timing was better.

When it was pointed out that only 18 per cent of the top 150 companies in Canada are headed by women (who make up 47 per cent of the workforce), Ms. Vachon felt it was important to encourage more women to choose careers in industries other than health and education where they dominate. “Men take the autoroute to the top, while women sometimes need a GPS,” she joked.

The Port expects to match, if not surpass, the record 54,752 cruise passengers it welcomed last year, Ms. Vachon said before the luncheon. The Port is working with the Montreal Cruise Committee to try and attract more cruise activity to enjoy all the festivals the city has to offer during the summer.

The Port has hired advertising agency Ogilvy Montreal to develop a new print campaign under the theme, “Trading with the World,” which expects to launch worldwide within the next few weeks. The campaign’s budget is $340,000 for 2013 as part of a three-year contract with Ogilvy.

Lark Ford of “K” Line Canada, outgoing President of TCM, later discussed a particularly proud accomplishment under her tenure. “We raised $25,000 for the Children’s Wish Foundation in 2012 (up from $17,000 in 2011) which will be presented to them on March 28 at our annual dinner at the Hotel Omni. From that, we sponsored a girl, Eliane, who went to Disneyland and a boy, Artem, whose wish was to see the ocean which he did in the Dominican Republic.”

Ms. Ford will be replaced by Rose DiSalvo of DB Schenker of Canada on April 17. Next year, Ms. DiSalvo will be replaced by Christine Vucko of CN, marking the first time in its history that the TCM has had three female Presidents in a row. The club’s very first female President was elected in 1993.