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Petite powerhouse

Professional Profile
|Written By Jane Mundy

Anne Giardini has long held a dual role with Weyerhaeuser Co. Ltd. And in October the vice president and general counsel ascended to position of president of the Canadian forestry giant.

Dual roles are nothing new to the lawyer and novelist, who was set to launch her second non-fiction work in March. While her business card may say president, general counsel is still very much part of her daily duties.

This petite powerhouse likes working in foresty, an industry which is still male dominated. The five-foot, barely 100-pound Giardini says she is addicted to the pace at Weyerhaeuser and starts to twitch if there aren’t a million things to do.

Aside from her dual roles, Giardini is a volunteer with the YWCA’s Women of Distinction Awards, a journalist, and mother of three.

By the looks of things, she won’t be twitching anytime soon. At 9 a.m. on the day we meet in the president’s cubicle at Weyerhaeuser, Giardini is already halfway through the morning. She clutches her BlackBerry, anticipating another multi-tasking day. A friend may call because she needs Giardini to help get her car towed; her daughter has a broken leg and needs her attention; and Insurance Corp. of British Columbia will soon telephone because her son got into a car accident a few days ago. “That’s just life,” she says, laughing. When that’s done, she needs to tackle the stacks of paperwork currently scattered around her modest space. On one surface lies her “must-read” pile, comprising about 30 publications, from Benchers Bulletin to Truck Logger magazine, “full of nifty news and stuff you can get,” says Giardini, visibly excited. She flips open a page and admires a logging truck. “Most all of this is interesting, except the pages of statistics.”

“Forestry is the backbone of our economy,” she says. “I adore going to operating facilities. Not only that, they are the life blood of the company, we exist to make sure those operations run successfully.”

Giardini had a fascination with forestry long before Weyerhaeuser hired her in Kamloops 15 years ago. She credits her civil engineer father with getting her interested in heavy equipment, how things are made and how resources are used in our everyday lives. “I see his engineer approach to things, if there is a problem, you look for ways to solve it.”

That’s advice well-taken in her new role. Giardini represents Weyerhaeuser in Canada and she is responsible for ensuring the company’s overall compliance with all legal requirements, from financial to environmental to sustainability issues. Although the forestry industry is suffering, Giardini says the company has certain advantages over its competition including liquidity, vision, and history. Weyerhaeuser has been operating for 110 years, and more than 40 of those years in Canada.

Giardini’s wide-ranging interests are a boon to Weyerhaeuser in all kinds of ways. “Anne also continues to work on law matters here so sometimes she attends meetings for legal-related issues such as negotiating contracts with First Nations bands,” says Deanna Stad, her legal assistant for the past 12 years. “She might discuss plans to harvest in their claimed area or negotiate how we can work with them."

Like countless other firms, Weyerhaeuser has downsized over the past few years. Consequently, Giardini has taken on more work and she travels more often.

“Whatever gets thrown on her desk, she will read it,” says Stad. “On the flight to Toronto yesterday, she took 20 trade magazines, a handful of reports and law firm newsletters, and she’ll read them all. Then she will get to work and pull out a pile of reading material with several items dog-eared for me to distribute internally. ‘Our financial guy should be aware of this, look at this new logging truck, someone else is doing biofuel, is there anything we can learn from them?’ she’ll say in one breath.”

Stad says she was really green when Giardini hired her. “Anne’s way of testing me was taking me into her office where the floor was covered with little stacks of paper, all her filing was literally on the floor in organized piles. She asked if I could help her. ‘Sure, no problem,’ I replied. It was a set-up; she wanted to see if I would freak. This woman is a paper machine, she does a myriad of things and needs to keep track. She is a book person, and I think she likes the feel of paper. . . .” Even though Stad doesn't like the piles of filing, “It’s a small price to pay, Anne has been a tremendous mentor and I consider her a friend.”

“She’s the Energizer Bunny,” says Charlotte Bell, her close friend and associate counsel at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, who articled at Vancouver’s Bull Housser & Tupper in 1985-86 with Giardini. “I have the utmost respect for her as a lawyer, wife, and mother. She worked her way up through Weyerhaeuser and she’s still married to her first husband with three great kids, and she is a true friend.”

Anna Fung, legal counsel at Intrawest, concurs. “I first met Anne when we were both admitted to UBC law school in 1981 and even back then she aspired to greater things,” says Fung. “She is always on a quest for the next achievement.” Some would say Giardini is a super-achiever, but she still takes time to smell the roses. Fung points out that Giardini has balanced her life to take that time.

“I remember Anne lamenting to me when she first started dating her husband Tony that she couldn’t see herself in a long-term relationship with someone who loved hockey and who didn’t care all that much for the arts,” says Fung. “Now, she attends her children’s hockey games and cheers them on from the stands while she is busily working away on her laptop on her latest novel or closing a deal. When she realized that Tony was going to be ‘the one,’ she took up Italian so that she could converse with his family.”

Giardini doesn’t see herself as a super-achiever. “I can’t carry a note, I’m a mediocre cook at best, and I can’t do anything that involves manual dexterity except type,” she says, “and my husband would be quick to point out that I can’t do anything around the house needing a screwdriver.”

Giardini’s Italian helped her write her second non-fiction novel, Advice for Italian Boys. “I used old proverbs from my mother-in-law that were in danger of getting lost,” she says. Her first book, The Sad Truth About Happiness, was naturally about happiness and unhappiness; the new book is about advice, and her next book will be about death. Giardini finished the second book about a year ago and started the third right away. “Why wait?” she asks.

How on earth does she find the time to write?

“The children are all teens so they don’t need me around as much anymore and I don’t watch much TV,” she explains. “As well, we still have our nanny who does everything, from housework to provisioning, I am thoroughly spoiled.”

Writing comes easily to Giardini, partially thanks to her mother, the late author Carol Shields, who taught her the “business of writing,” i.e. actually doing it and treating writing as a job. As well, both her parents were academics and instilled in her at an early age an interest in discovery.

At the ripe age of 17 she was at the University of Ottawa and didn’t know what courses to sign up for. “I was taking economics but someone suggested poli-sci,” she says, “and I thought that meant ‘many sciences.’ Instead of walking into a lab, the entire course focused on a book called Anatomy of a Coup, which was about how to overthrow a government. It was about power and that was all I wanted to know.”

So how does she make the leap from writing legal opinions to writing novels? “It’s like another language and I’m compartmentalized,” she explains, adding that the two genres complement each other. “The legal profession makes you less vague and more precise, you can’t make sloppy errors. And it helps to understand the dynamics of humans; it helps to be observant.”

As for novel writing, Giardini says she takes a lot from personal experiences, but it is still fiction, unlike her day job. At Weyerhaeuser, she says, “You can’t just be a dream weaver, you still have to get the work done.”

In terms of scholarly writings, Giardini has presented numerous papers and seminars on various legal topics to groups for many years. She is one of the co-authors of a chapter on aboriginal rights and industry that will be published in June 2009.

She is exploring working on a project to build affordable quality housing for Aboriginal Peoples, potentially through the formation of public-private partnerships involving both levels of government and private enterprise.

Amazingly, Giardini has always managed to find time for volunteer work, although she emphasizes that none of it is really “work,” she helps fundraise and “plan nifty events.” This year she is the chairwoman of the YWCA's Women of Distinction Awards; is the incoming chairwoman of the Vancouver International Writers Festival; and sits on the board of The Writers’ Trust of Canada, and she has been on her church board for seven years.

Deanna Stad frequently plays devil’s advocate with Giardini, asking her boss if she can realistically join another committee or take on another speaking engagement. “Often Anne will volunteer before she figures out how to get it done, so I will go point out other things on her agenda that will compete with her ability to do that.”

As for her long-term agenda, Giardini says she will continue to work and get involved in issues that interest her.

After all, she’s not that busy, over the course of an entire hour, her BlackBerry didn’t ring once.