Jan. 26, 2016 – Last August, Nathalie Pilon was appointed ABB Canada managing director, bringing with her two decades of electrical and manufacturing experience. We spoke with Pilon for her take on how Canada can stay competitive in this turbulent market.
MA: What is it about this industry that has kept you in it all these years?
NP: Well for one, I like manufacturing. I think there’s a passion for me to make sure we stay relevant in manufacturing in Canada and there’s a way for us to compete. It’s an industry where there’s a lot of respect, I would say, between the whole supply chain and the value that each of us bring in the supply chain, and one where [we are] able to innovate not only in product but in servicing. Competitors basically know each other because we have an industry in which both distributors and manufacturers get together to try and solve industry problems. There’s collegiality of parties with manufacturing reps and agents that operate in that business, just trying to look at a sustainable business going forward. One thing I talk about often with employees, I started back when I was at Thomas & Betts, is sustainability. It not only looks at what you do to the environment and how you operate, but also at keeping manufacturing relevant and [maintaining] jobs for people, making it sustainable for employees so that they can have a job in Canada. That’s what sustainability means to me. It’s basically about business continuity — the continuation of business and for generations to come.
MA: Do you think elements of your career have been more difficult because you are a woman?
NP: I cannot say that. Personally I’ve been very fortunate from that standpoint but I also realize that because it hasn’t been difficult for me, I can’t assume it’s not difficult for others. I was sharing that with employees this week when somebody asked me what I will do for women. Really it’s about making sure I express myself and let myself be more accessible or seen and not as self-promotion but [in a way] that helps others. I was sort of refraining from doing so but then I realized that we still have big steps to take in terms of having women in higher positions or as members of boards. When I realized that, I decided I had to share my story more so people understand that it is feasible, it is possible.
MA: What advice or words of wisdom would you give to a young person considering a future in manufacturing?
NP: You need to believe in it. You need to want to make a difference and be open about the challenges around us. Competition isn’t necessarily in our backyard; it’s the one that we don’t see that is competition. So how do we work on this? How do we stay relevant? Relevance can be product or service-related. For me, it’s all about [whether] we are staying in tune with what the customer needs and making sure we develop products with ease of installation that have automation, cost savings or [reduced] emissions. There is so much good you can do with manufacturing if you’re a problem solver. I think the future definitely has challenges, but challenges also bring opportunities.
MA: You bring up a good point in talking about overseas competition. Who do you think our biggest competitors are? Who should we keep our eye on?
NP: That’s interesting. To [determine] our top competitor, I think it really depends on what [sector] you look at. Obviously we benchmark with and talk a lot about Germany, not that we can compete with Germany but we should look at its recipe for success and how the country can stay competitive in this environment. [We should] try to benchmark against countries, like Singapore, that have economies that have made conscious decisions to invest and [define] their manufacturing strategy.
MA: What is Canada’s biggest obstacle in the manufacturing world?
NP: The challenge is the investment needed to automate, and [I wonder if] we’ll have the will and the means to keep up on the automation and change the way we look at investment. In the last 15 years […] when you look at the investment firms are doing in other parts of the world, you see that we are much slower in getting with the technology. When the Canadian dollar was strong, people were under pressure in terms of margins and cash flow was tight, and they didn’t invest but now… investment is very expensive because the dollar is so weak. Our timing is off. We cannot delay these investments too long otherwise we’re going to put ourselves out. We need to have the latest technology to compete.
CLICK HERE to read our news item announcing Nathalie Pilon’s move to ABB Canada.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.