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Liana Frenette: Private Sector Award--Northwestern Ontario.

With toddlers in tow, and a preschooler competing for mom's attention, it was no wonder Liana Frenette was somewhat reticent about the idea of acquiring a business. So when her husband came home from his government job one day in 1995 and announced his intentions to purchase Thunder Bay Testing, Frenette had but one question for him, "Are you off your rocker?"

Frenette, having quit her job as a school teacher to become a stay-at-home mom, admits the potential threat on their financial security was one of her greatest concerns, but after having mulled over the idea, she supported the move.

"I thought about it for a couple of days and thought to myself, 'you need to do in life what you need to do,'" Frenette says. "Twenty-five years from now you don't want to have regrets."

She also recognized the need to set limits, or "conditions." One of those conditions was that her husband would not allow the business to consume all of his time and energy, and that the business would not distract him from family obligations.

In the initial stages, in order to maintain financial stability, Frenette was named the owner of the business, and was left financially liable, while her husband continued to work for the Ministry of Transportation. He was able to work for the ministry for the first six months because there was no conflict of interest during that period, she recalls.

Frenette, as business manager of the company, determined that, if she was made financially liable, then she wanted to learn every operational component of the business. She immediately enrolled in courses to become certified in lab testing and field inspections and invested time and energy in learning the business "from the ground up."

"I thought to myself, if I'm financially liable, then I'm going to be there," Frenette says. "I learned everything about the business because I believe that in order to manage a company you need to understand it."


Frenette and her husband were able to balance the needs of the business with family demands by alternating shifts; she worked during the day, while her husband worked during the night.

Thunder Bay Testing originally provided lab testing and field inspection services. Following the acquisition in 1995, and during a period of government downsizing, Frenette and her husband recognized an opportunity to expand their services to include highway design and testing. When the government elected to contract highway design and testing services out to the private sector, Frenette, having recruited more staff to handle new contracts, and her husband, who previously provided these types of services during his period of employment with the ministry, were confident they could land new contracts.

"If you recognize opportunity, you need to cautiously take a risk," Frenette says. "When we expanded we asked ourselves "Can it pay for itself in a year?" And if it can, then it seems justifiable and we take the risk."

Thunder Bay Testing became the Ministry of Transportation's assurance testing lab, which provided a new revenue stream for the company, and led to a period of growth. The name of the company was changed to Thunder Bay Testing and Engineering Ltd., or TBT Engineering, and its employee base grew from two in 1995 to over 40 at present. They recently landed another three-year contract to continue providing testing services for the province.

Today, TBT Engineering provides a variety of services, including highway design, geo-technical engineering, foundations engineering, pavement and environmental engineering, field and laboratory construction material testing, technical training and certification programs, construction inspection and administration and total project management.

Since acquiring the business, Frenette has concentrated much of her efforts on ensuring TBT employees have a safe and healthy workplace. She has enrolled in countless health and safety programs and has worked tirelessly at developing work plans and policies that align with her values to provide "exceptional treatment of the people who work for and with her."

"One of the most important things in our company is occupational health and safety," she says.

Frenette is heavily involved with Thunder Bay's branch of the Safe Communities Foundation (SCF), which works in partnership with the private and public sectors to improve the health and safety of workers and people throughout their communities.

"I have known and worked with Liana (Frenette) on a professional basis for approximately six years," Elizabeth Montgomery, program co-ordinator for Thunder Bay Safe Communities says. "During this time I have come to know and appreciate how hard this unassuming woman works at trying to keep her employees happy, safe, healthy and productive."


Northern Ontario Business
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:2004 Winner
Author:Huhtala, Sari
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Previous Article:Suzanne Brooks: Private Sector Award--Northeastern Ontario.
Next Article:Christy Marinig: Public Sector Award--Northeastern Ontario.

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