This STEM Woman Quit at the Pinnacle of Her Career

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Leaderonomics

03-03-2020

4 min read

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At age 40, after a 15-year successful career in manufacturing, Lori Hoinkes quit.

As an expert in operations management, her core education for her work was a curriculum in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) – a path that chose her from an early age.

Her powerful, analytical mind was problem solving from the time she was a little girl.  She grew up in Canada with a loving family that lived paycheck to paycheck. As Lori noted, “Nobody had a career, they worked to survive.” While they could always afford to provide love and support, money was always tight, and there never seemed to be enough.

The silver lining was these humble beginnings fuelled Lori on her life’s mission of finding feasible solutions for a problem. From getting a paper route at age nine to buy extras, to counselling her parents on how they could spend their money more wisely, Lori knew what she wanted, and would look far and wide at how to achieve it.

You may be interested in: Infographic: How Good Are Your Problem Solving Skills?

The bottom line is that Lori could always see the bottom line. One thing that did not add up for Lori was going to college. She simply could not afford it. So, she found the solution – going to Canada’s Royal Military College. At the time, if you attended the military college, and served five years of Military duty, the cost of your education was covered. Her military career culminated in the position of Air Force Lieutenant.

In college and her years in the military, based on test scores and skills, her professors and commanding officers suggested she focus on applied sciences. With ‘fixing things’ in her DNA, this came naturally. She was on a path to becoming an engineer. Through guidance, engineering chose her. Lori admitted, “I did not even know what an engineer was when I entered college.”

Her unplanned career path continued this way. She did not have a grand design, rather she received suggestions from co-workers, peers and others on jobs she might consider.

And in the first fifteen years of her career, in the male dominated world of manufacturing, she was often the only woman in the room in meetings.

Her career route on the road less travelled for women took her to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited as a faculty supervisor; Estee Lauder Company as Pilot Group Leader; General Motors as Business Manager; Maple Leaf Foods as Director, Manufacturing Optimisation; to running her own tech startups and eventually to the Managing Director on Montgomery Events.

The road from energy to auto, to food, to development, to consulting, to events was not glued together by a common industry – but rather her deep skills in manufacturing and operations. Along the way, Lori earned her Six Sigma Black Belt. Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement.

Lori is a master in process improvement – always improving herself. She is a meticulous manager of execution. Improving process, at its core, means understanding how to make change. But Lori noted that making change stick (become inculcated in a company) is hard.

She said she learned in manufacturing ‘if you expect it, inspect it’. That requires persistent people skills and an ability to create buy-in up and down an organisation. With the breadth and depth of the types and sizes of organisations she has worked in – she is an operations management guru as well as making sure that systems and processes end up embedded in a company.

So, what prompted her to quit at age 40 was one penetrating question.

Her husband asked her, “Are you happy in your job?” Lori’s answer was – “Well I guess so. I make a good living; I am doing something where I excel.”

Then she asked herself, “Am I happy?” To find the answer she went on her own mission to figure it out. She gave her employer nine months’ notice – but would continue and work four days a week with commensurate pay. On the fifth day which was hers’, Lori truly explored what she wanted to do next. She examined what kind of role she wanted, and what kind of company she wanted to work for – including size, culture and more.

Read also: How to Switch Careers – The Ultimate Guide

Her analysis of what was next landed her at present employer, Montgomery. A perfect match. Was she happy before? The answer is “sort of”. Is she happy now? Her answer is yes. She is essentially running a fast-paced unit of a 125-year old company with an incredible culture, history and work ethic. She loves her job.

Lori teaches us that:

1. Even without a plan – (women) girls can be anything

Find your core competency and be true to that rather than an industry. Lori changed industries but always stuck to her core competency in operations. 

As an aside, I was talking to a colleague who is a journalist and publicist, and his core competency is as a writer. He has written about healthcare for years and I advised him to take his skills to another industry. He did not, and switched jobs but remained in healthcare because it offered the best short-term earning potential. But, in my opinion, he did not broaden his horizons.

A recruiter once said to me, “When you hire, hire raw talent and skills. A smart, talented person can learn any industry.

2. That a career path is not a straight line

There is a famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” If you are truly on a journey, you do not know exactly where you will end up.

3. Listen to guidance and help along the way

Find out what others think of you and your potential. Ask where you can make a difference and be inquisitive about new opportunities as you get to know yourself better.

If you really think about it – ask yourself if you are happy. Because, you can be truly happy at work. If you are not truly happy – regroup, rethink and take action.

The risk in taking the safe route is that you’ll never know what you could be. Take the journey.


Rob Wyse is a senior consultant who is an expert in brand storytelling. For thirty years, he has guided senior leaders in creating compelling story arcs that connect brands to customers. At the heart of his storytelling has been management of issues/policy to drive market opportunity. Issues include AI, climate change, the future of work, diversity, and healthcare. To engage with him, email editor@leaderonomics.com

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