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Women Leaders in Business: Co-owner of world-renowned mining contractor emphasizes company culture

Manroc is Manitouwadge's largest employer but still small on the world mining stage — and Katie Simoneau wouldn't change a thing

It wasn’t really Katie Simoneau’s plan to take over the family business. But today, as co-owner and vice-president of Manroc Developments Inc., Simoneau can’t imagine it any other way.

“I’ll never forget the day my father walked into my kitchen and said, ‘I’m going to be selling. This is your opportunity. You need to make a decision because I have competitor that wants me,’” Simoneau said with a laugh. “But you know what? I wouldn’t look back. I’m so lucky to have this opportunity.”

Established in Manitouwadge in 1986, Simoneau’s father Don purchased Manroc in 1989. The company specializes in what’s called the Alimak mining method, which is ideally used for narrow vein deposits. This mining method can reduce costs and speed up ore production for specific kinds of mineral deposits.

Manufacturing the system is a big part of their business. Simoneau said that about 85 per cent of the equipment they sell to customers for their Alimak system is fabricated in-house at their Manitouwadge shop. Their manufacturing expertise is part of what makes Manroc one of the leading Alimak contractors in the world.

“We’re pretty well known in the mining industry,” Simoneau said. “When you Google mining contractors, we’re in that top list. We’re smaller, but because of our reputation, we’ve worked all across Canada as well as overseas such as Africa and South America.”

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Simoneau said that she has no desire for Manroc to grow any larger. With 250 employees, Manroc is the largest employer in Manitouwadge. But it’s still small compared to other mining contractors. And that’s the way Simoneau likes it, allowing the company to be more flexible and more responsive to client needs. Supervisors, managers, and office staff tend to be people who worked their way up through the company.

“We’re happy with the size that we are,” Simoneau said. She added that it’s a tight-knit group who work together and play together. That’s important to the company, and a big part of their culture, she said. “Any bigger, and you start to lose that one-on-one dedication to your clients and to your employees. It works revenue-wise, it works culture-wise — it’s a happy medium for us.”

Simoneau grew up with that culture. She started working summers at Manroc during university, earning her Bachelor of Commerce degree from St. Mary’s University in Halifax. She joined the company full time after graduation. Over the years, her father made sure she worked in different areas of the business including mine clerk, payroll, invoicing, writing tenders, contract negotiations, and HR.

“He definitely groomed me for this,” Simoneau said. “Today, after purchasing the company, it’s been a great wealth of knowledge, having that experience.”

Simoneau partnered with Chris Sproule, who took over as president after they purchased the business in 2014. Sproule’s career path parallels Simoneau’s, but from the mining side. He started as a miner and worked his way up through supervisor, captain, superintendent, and then moved to the office.

“I can do the money part, but I don’t have the mining experience,” Simoneau said. “I haven’t been physically underground doing those jobs. I need someone beside me who can do that part of it.”

Becoming an executive in a notoriously male-dominated industry hasn’t been much of an issue, Simoneau said, inside the company or out.

“There’s never been too bad of a situation where I felt out of place or someone is saying, ‘What is she doing here?’ Does it exist today? Absolutely. And have I had moments? For sure. But 99 per cent of it has been very positive, very uplifting, very respectful.”

Simoneau and Manroc have been recognized with awards over the years. Manroc received a 2020 Northern Ontario Business Award (NOBA) as Company of the Year (51+ employees). That same year Simoneau won a Northern Ontario Visionary Award (NOVA) from SHIFT Thunder Bay in the Business and Professional Achievement category.

“I was jaw-dropped,” Simoneau said. “I’m very proud. It shows you that the hard work you put in does get paid off.”

Simoneau said Kathy Germain, a now-retired HR manager, was a particular inspiration for her.

“She believed in me and pushed me. She would always say, ‘You’ve got this.’ And obviously my father was a huge mentor.”

But Simoneau credits everyone at the company, agreeing that Manroc’s size and culture certainly contribute to the positive environment. “The whole group – they are all so supportive.”