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Rising to the Challenge – with a Woman’s Touch
  When you’re a farm girl at heart, taking the lead of
a layoff sire at EBI is just another day at the office.
 By Tars Cheema
Many in BC will know Ann Louise Carson from her eight years as CEO at Holstein Canada. When the HC annual convention in Saskatchewan was cancelled due to Covid-19 this Spring, it dashed the spirits of some 20 new Master Breeder families who were undoubtedly anticipating their grand celebration among appreciative peers. But it was also a most unfortunate disappointment for newly retired Ann Louise, who was understandably looking forward to seeing members from across nine branches for a final farewell.
As I thought about her retirement, a realization came to me that I had known her for some 40 years! Our dairy farm roots would present common career paths, which crossed over many times over the years.
What a (career) Ride!
Ann Louise was the fifth generation on Carsondale Farms in the Eastern
Townships of southern Quebec. She thrived in the rich soil of 4-H, cattle shows and a family that loved farming. “Dad’s source of pride was homebred animals and his goal was winning the breeders’ herd or breeders’ banner at the shows. He achieved his dream of becoming a Master Breeder when he was terminal with cancer in his late ‘50’s,” Ann Louise recalls. She believes that receiving the shield bought him another six months – six precious months, making the Master Breeder program even more poignant for her when making those incredibly heart- touching phone calls in early January.
“I was an aggie at McGill like my Dad and elder brother,” she says with pride. But it was her bilingual talents mixed with her earlier 4-H profile and her ag studies that opened her first door into an exciting professional world, as the press attachée for the Québec Ag Minister. And what a door it turned out to be! It was the start of free trade - GATT and Ann Louise was exposedtoleaders,moversandshakersof allkinds!“Thesewerefiveamazingyears
that broadened my agriculture view from just dairy, and launched my career,” she recognizes with clarity.
When Boviteq became an independent subsidiary of CIAQ, Ann Louise was brought on as General Manager. She was 31, a woman forging a path of leadership in agriculture that was still uncommon. For the next eight years, she worked with a diverse, talented team of scientists and innovators to bring their embryo technology and international embryo marketing forward together for a profitable market. When Semex Alliance was formed, the embryo marketing function went to them, leaving R and D with Boviteq. Under this sort of fundamental change, Ann Louise felt a leadership change can also be a good signal to establish a new mandate. She took the opportunity to travel internationally a few months before becoming a Senior Manager at Quebec DHI. Six years later, she was back in the AI sector, this time as General Manager at Eastern Breeders in Kemptville. During her tenure, she oversaw the reduction of the board by half, the building of two sire comfort barns and consolidation of EBI Atlantic programs. Five years in, the business environment had evolved sufficiently to consider amalgamation with Gencor. The result was EastGen. “I saw my cue to step back once we had a merger. I felt Brian O’Connor was best suited, and I wanted a cohesive dovetailing of the two boards, without any friction over choosing which GM would stay. I knew things would work out for me.” And within a few weeks, she indeed landed on her feet once more, this time consulting in the merger talks between Holstein Canada and CDN. A few months later, “I never thought for a moment it would lead to me being CEO – I had already lined up a different project.”
Oh, the Changes I’ve Seen!
Technology is the obvious common denominator to the changes throughout Ann Louise’s career journey. “It was a very exciting day at Boviteq when we ‘dared’ collect oocytes from a farm an hour away and bring them back for IVF in our lab! Now they travel across the country!” she laughs. Besides fertilizing oocytes in a dish, she oversaw the team attempting the first IVF embryo freezing. Beyond IVF (yet equally challenging) was the development of sexed semen during this exciting era. Powerful computers and ever-more clever software have changed the way data can be used beneficially – on farms, in DHI, in breed associations. Then add in smart-phone capability that feeds herd management information right to your hands. “Technology has connected us 24/7 – we hardly remember a time that we didn’t have everything on our cell phones. But we still need to know how to manage the human aspect – nothing replaces human contact. And ag people know this better than anyone,” she professes.
Is there a Woman’s Side to
the Story?
“Let me be clear,” she begins softly but firmly, “I have been blessed to work with
farming folk who (as a rule) have great values. Family, faith, friends, respect, work ethic, networks. They care about you; they care about your family. I was always surrounded by true gentlemen, and while I was often the only female on many boards, that steadily changed.” Ann Louise never felt that her gender held her back from career opportunities. “We all have to prove ourselves; personally, I feel there’s no need for quotas – choose the most qualified person for the job. I think almost everyone shares this view.”
She acknowledges that men and women don’t always take the same road to reach the same destination – which can bring on some interesting situations among male colleagues she says. “I always felt respected and wouldn’t have put up with disrespect. Men and women compliment each other – organizations are better with diversity. Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same? I made my share of tough decisions - every CEO does. If I had to identify one aspect of work which I hope changes, it’s putting both genders on the same scale when tough decisions are made.” She does suggest that women may have an advantage in empathy and fine details while also protecting their ‘work family’ fiercely!
Some Final Observations
from the Rear-View Mirror
“One of the ‘successes’ I am most proud of is the closer collaboration between Holstein Canada and DFC. Gone are days of ‘breeders’ and ‘producers.’ Our Canadian Holstein has proven she has no limits – nor do her owners, especially when they band together. Never, ever, underestimate the power of grassroots,” she emphasizes.
“I am always encouraged when I see the sense of belonging that farming fosters. From 4-H to WCC, Holstein clubs, etc., we all benefit from being part of something bigger. It makes us stronger than many other industries,” Ann Louise contends.
She credits three ‘good guys’ for being wise advisors over her career; Robert Chicoine (past GM CIAQ) from her days at Boviteq, Paul Larmer from Semex and Jacques Lefebvre from DFC. “All three of these CEOs are hard working, genuinely nice guys, with high integrity.
“I need to express how lucky I feel we are to be Canadians! Thanks to everyone working so hard to defend and promote Supply Management. My international travel has reminded me of our luck time and time again!
“It may seem surprising, but BC is the province where I visited the most farms! So, I offer a special thanks to all the farms that welcomed me, to the Branch, Richard Bosma and Ben Cuthbert. I appreciated working with the great attitudes of people from BC,” concludes the sincere, retired CEO.
And just like that, this farm girl’s long dairy career comes full circle – with one final posting - to be near her family in the Eastern Townships once again.

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