FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with John Forgeron
January 24, 2017
I caught up recently with John Forgeron – Principal Consultant and Owner of JRF and Associates. It’s been a number of years since we last connected, mostly because he’s been handling PR projects all over the country. We first met during one of his Calgary stints, with RSI – a sequel for his employer Strait Crossing Inc. who built the 8th wonder of the world, Canada’s Confederation Bridge, and John performed what seems to me to be ‘the 9th wonder of the world’ – doing all the HR work for that project.
He’s working at freelance assignments from his Calgary office these days, and I’m sure his family likes that … but he has lots of miles left on his tires. “I’m not ready to be a retired guy”.
Explaining his affinity for large projects, “I enjoy large project work!”
To begin his story – born on an island just off Cape Breton; in Arichat on Isle Madame, Nova Scotia (his ancestry is Louisburg and early immigrants from France). No small shock when the family moved to Halifax, well into the 1st grade school year, English school, and John spoke only French. He repeated of course, but hasn’t looked back since. His dad was an acetylene welder in the Halifax shipyard, mom was a short-order cook in a hotel – John, the baby brother of four, with three older sisters. Average student, played basketball (I think all tall guys do!) and met Eleanor (they’ve been married since 1970), then attended St. Mary’s University in Halifax where he obtained his B.Com. degree. While in high school and university John worked at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax where he learned bartending skills, and perhaps great listening skills too.
A first job in the stock-brokerage world didn’t take … then a job at 500 Selection Services began to cement his calling in the human resources arena; 10 years there, Partner, then Technical Service Council, Branch Manager, Rio Algom mine startup – hiring 200 people in nine months in Yarmouth, Seabright Resources gold mine hiring 350 people and then a dreamy job: H.R. Manager for the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, NS – his start date, as it turned out, was nine days after the famous disaster that closed the mine, so he learned to deal with unions and bereaved families … and a failed attempt to reopen the mine. Not a great career move, or perhaps a great one in terms of learning things no book or classroom can teach. In any case, it put him in the right place at the right time for a spectacular role – one of Canada’s first and most highly regarded P3 (public private partnership) projects, the Confederation Bridge fixed link from P.E.I. to New Brunswick. John was H.R.Manager (there was just one!) for Strait Crossing – leader of the consortium, in Charlottetown, handing all PR functions for four years, 450 staff and 2,500 hourly workers on the project. Subsequently – a move to Calgary to head H.R. for another of Paul Giannelia’s enterprises, Resin Systems (later RSI),which is when I met John. Since then he’s spent time on a number of major projects as Director of Human Resources in Vancouver (SkyTrain Millenium Line (Strait Crossing Inc.) and Site C Hydro Dam (Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc.) and in Windsor (Detroit River International Crossing (Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc.). Along the way John and Eleanor raised three children and now have three grandchildren as well. Since John was away so much he admits she did most of the heavy lifting – and he found a calling for woodcarving, or rather whittling away his off-work hours in a productive way …
Why are you successful? “Experience. Knowledge. Genuinely trying to help people succeed. I don’t make excuses. What you see is what you get …”
What has held you back? “I don’t look at life that way – because I’ve never felt, except in the first grade because I needed to learn English, that I was ever held back.”
How do you see your business – recruiting/HR consulting – going forward over the next quarter?
… construction industry activity is slow – lots of things going on in the background, governments are ‘talking about funding lots of infrastructure projects’ so I expect we’ll see an uptick in the next six to nine months.
And over the next five years?
… the recruiting industry is going to change – the internet is giving more people more opportunities for jobs, but there is much predicated on ‘change in how companies operate’ which I doubt. Companies are looking at reducing and changing the HR function by outsourcing more to consultants vis-à-vis having large HR departments, so there will be more transparency, more ‘employees self-managing their benefits’ which will work better for employee and employer and be less costly.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I tend to hire experience. Resumes and reference checks prove a lot of people look good on paper, but do they get the job done? On large projects it’s more about execution of the job than long-term retention or permanency.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose John Forgeron, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’m really good at what I do. I’ve always been hard working and ‘not a clock watcher’ my entire career – I do what it takes when tough challenges and deadlines loom, you just do it and don’t quit until it’s done.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… open, communicative. I give people the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them – I let people do their jobs and I provide guidance.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not much. I’m not ready to retire – though the future is on our minds.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Paul Giannelia gave me a taste and test of my big project skills after the Westray role; he taught me so much, brought me to Calgary! He always said, “the best lie is the truth” – that has stuck with me …
… carving bass wood – birds and Santa Clauses are my specialty. I had lots of time! We have children in P.E.I, Calgary and Saskatoon so visiting them, fun with grandkids.
What do you read?
… novels – John Grisham, James Patterson – that sort of thing. I’m reading something unusual right now – Bruce Springsteen’s biography.
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