Monday, February 21, 2011

There’s no glass ceiling at PF Collins

Susan Collins.
One of the business leaders presenting at Fueling the Future is Susan Collins, of PF Collins International Trade Solutions.

PF Collins was established 90 years ago as a customs brokerage firm, but has expanded and diversified its service offerings through the years. The company provides freight, customs, warehouse & distribution, marine agency and immigration consulting services from locations in St. John’s, Halifax and Calgary. They are recognized logistics specialists in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Susan will discuss the role of women in the global logistics industry, and will recount the stories of the women who work at PF Collins.

At the global level, women occupy just 20 percent of management positions in the logistics sector, according to a 2008 gender equity study by the SSM Group. “In the majority of logistics companies worldwide, more than 70 percent of the workforce is male,” Susan said, in an interview.

However, PF Collins is a notable exception to this rule.

“There are 46 women and 39 men employed at PF Collins, so about 55 percent of our staff are female,” she said. “As well, our management team has more women than men holding key positions in a variety of disciplines.”

At PF Collins, women occupy leadership roles in customs brokerage, freight forwarding, quality assurance, health safety and environment, human resources, immigration consulting, administration, and marketing and sales.

They arrived at those positions through a lot of hard work, with support and encouragement from their employer. Most of the women who are now in management positions started out in clerical and administrative assistant roles. However, unlike many other women in the logistics industry, they did not run into the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ as they worked to enhance their skills and increase responsibility. “In so doing,” Susan explained, “they gained confidence in themselves, which translated into our clients having confidence in the firm.”

PF Collins has always been very big on education, Susan said. “Most of the women in senior management roles have been with us for more than 30 years. They started off in administrative support positions and worked their way up, doing a lot of specialized training that is unique to this industry. We try to match the training we provide to the interests and talents of the individual, enabling these women to work in the parts of the business that appeal to them the most. Education is the big thing. We’ve come a long way and we've certainly developed a terrific team, getting women up to the table and making decisions.”

The investment in training and promoting women has paid off, Susan added.

“I think women bring some very valuable skills to the logistics industry,” she said. “Certainly at PF Collins, we’ve benefited from their focus on developing client relationships, their attention to great customer service and their eye for managing all those important details.”

Traditionally, logistics has been regarded as a masculine field, Susan said. “You're talking about arranging cranes and forklifts to hoist big industrial equipment onto trucks, planes and ships. All those ‘ugly’ details like truck dimensions and load capacity, cargo capacity on aircraft and vessels – where you have to think about mechanical and technical challenges about freight movement and really know your business – the cargo, the carriers and how you're going to come up with the best way to get that piece of equipment where it needs to be.”

At PF Collins, these challenges are being faced by women. “It might not be typical for women to deal with these matters, but here, at PF Collins, they are dealing with them every day. And they're very good at it. They've certainly proven that they can get in there and get the job done on a completely level playing field with their male counterparts in our industry.”

In her presentation at the conference, Susan plans to highlight some of the women who hold management positions at PF Collins, working in a non-traditional industry where their unique skills have made a huge contribution to the company's success.

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