Linda Hasenfratz built her career by paying her dues.
As the daughter of Linamar Corporation founder Frank Hasenfratz, LLD’16, she was eager to begin her working life at the family business, one of the world’s most successful manufacturing companies
She was educated and talented, and so one might easily imagine her career beginning in management, working in a corner office and strategizing with other Linamar executives.
Instead, she started on the manufacturing shop floor.
“My father always told me, the only job where you start at the top is digging a hole,” Hasenfratz laughed.
Determined to succeed, she threw herself into the job, and benefited greatly.
“It taught me a lot about our business – grounded me technically in what we do and how we do it. But it also showed me what it’s like physically – getting there early and standing on your feet all day. I have tremendous respect for our people and who they are. Those are tough jobs.”
Hasenfratz climbed the company ranks. Today, she’s Linamar’s CEO, and has grown the company to more than 29,000 people in 61 manufacturing facilities around the world.
In July, Hasenfratz was named Western’s 23rd Chancellor. On Tuesday, she, alongside Western President Alan Shepard, will be installed into their respective positions in a first-ever joint ceremony celebrating the two positions.
As the honorary and symbolic head of the university, the position has, in decades past, been viewed as largely ceremonial. Hasenfratz, however, sees the role of a modern-day chancellor differently.
“Many chancellors today are choosing to get more involved in different ways, not in terms of governance, but more with interacting with students and finding ways to inspire and reach them,” she said. “That’s something I’m thinking through. ‘What can I do to connect with students and bring some of my experience and thinking to the table to help challenge them, and challenge the way they think?’”
A long-time supporter of Western students, Hasenfratz, BSc’89, MBA’97, LLD’19, established the Linamar Scholarships for Women in Engineering and Business in 2017 to help boost future numbers of women leaders. She says she’s always enjoyed connecting with students.
“I learn a lot from them; they always have great questions that make me think a little differently. I like the opportunity to influence their thinking a little bit as well.”
Critical thinking, she says, is an area of great importance in today’s world. “We are bombarded with information from so many sources. We have more information available to us than we ever have in history, and yet I feel like we’re less informed than we’ve ever been.”
For Hasenfratz, living in a world of fast-spreading, sensational statements and conclusions that may not be correct, or even based in real science, can be dangerous.
“It’s hard to sift through it, decide what’s real and what’s not real. That’s where critical-thinking skills come in to play. More than any time in history, we have to step back and question those things and make sure we really understand them, and then conclude for ourselves what we think is right and wrong, and let that guide our actions and decisions.”
Hasenfratz is intimately familiar with challenging decisions, facing many on a daily basis in her corporate role. While many chancellors are wrapping up their corporate responsibilities when they first take on the role, she has taken it on mid-career.
The timing may have made some hesitate, but Hasenfratz didn’t blink. She acknowledges the benefits of being able to reflect on the experiences of a long career, but is quick to tout the value of someone still fighting the fires.
“It helps me bring an interesting perspective – I’m still living it and experiencing those challenges every day. I’m still in the heart of it as opposed to looking back. It’s going to be incredibly interesting.”
There are a number key areas of interest she hopes to explore as Chancellor. Empowering critical thinking is high on the list, but so are things like bringing more workplace experiences to education through co-ops and internships, exploring the benefits of dual-degrees and continuing to boost the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math.
She also has a keen interest in entrepreneurship, drawing parallels between Western and a global manufacturing giant like Linamar.
“Having entrepreneurial people who move quickly, make smart decisions and can implement them well is important,” she said. “Western has an entrepreneurial incubator, and I’m eager to see how we make a bigger deal of that. I love the idea of taking ideas and trying to make them a business, trying to make them blossom.”
Hasenfratz, who began the Chancellor role at the same time Western welcomed Shepard as President, is excited about the possibilities between the two leaders.
“There’s obviously going to be change afoot. Alan will bring his own ideas to the table. It’s a great opportunity to put some of my ideas out there and see if they fit with his vision and with where he wants to take the school.”
While she’s always been entrepreneurial and looked for opportunities to contribute ideas and make change, she knows it ultimately takes a group effort to achieve success, in business or education.
“It’s people. People with great ideas, who are great leaders, are an important part of achieving a vision and a goal. It builds a culture. That kind of team, that kind of culture, is what Western has. I’m thrilled to be part of it.”