Welcome to Influence-Her MWAF’s new blog series about women who have achieved success in their careers in the agriculture and food sector. We hope the interviews with these women will offer insight and inspiration.
We kick off with an interview with Peak of the Market Ltd.’s CEO, Pamela Kolochuk.
By Angela Lovell
Anyone who wants to be successful in their career can’t go far wrong if they surround themselves with people that believe in them, says Pamela Kolochuk, CEO of Peak of the Market Ltd.
“The biggest thing anyone can do in order to succeed is to surround yourself with people that lift you up, elevate you and believe that you can do whatever you put your mind to,” she says.
It’s something that Kolochuk has always tried to do, and it has helped her to be successful in various roles throughout her long career in agriculture, which began with milking cows on her family farm at age five.
After majoring in accounting at the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba she worked for Arnold Brothers Transport in Winnipeg, where she met her future husband, Barry Kolochuk. From there, she moved to the grain accounting department of Cargill while also completing her CGA and starting a Masters degree. After spending 10 years at Parrish & Heimbecker – while also raising two young girls – she took a position with Bunge (now called G3 Canada) to help the company with its acquisition and consolidation of the Canadian Wheat Board. While she liked the work, she found herself looking for a change.
“I liked project management, so I worked in tech for two years supporting entrepreneurs and new companies that were up and coming in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, and spent more time with my family,” Kolochuk says.
In 2017, she got a call from a recruiter about a Chief Financial Officer role at Peak of the Market. She became CEO in 2022, where her focus today is on transitioning the 81-year-old organization from a non-profit to a for-profit.
“In 2022, we became a grower-owned, shareholder held, private company,” she says. “A lot of my focus as the CEO was transitioning the company into a new state with a new vision, new mission, and new strategy. We want to be seen as innovative and all of those things that our growers are.”
Many role models.
Kolochuk’s role models have included many women – her mother and a former female boss at Cargill among them – but there have also been many men who have influenced and coached her through her career. She is also a mentor herself with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, and she is a firm believer that mentorship should work to enrich both the mentor and the mentee.
“As women, we want to do everything, but we have to realize that we can’t,” Kolochuk says. “I find a lot of women will continue to do things because they want to help people but at the end of the day, there has to be something coming back to make you better. If it’s not, then you really need to think about why you are doing it.”
Women who are successful in their careers, like Kolochuk, know how important it is to be change makers and role models that influence and help encourage and empower others to achieve their goals. At the same time, women often face a dilemma in their personal lives as they strive to also put their families first.
“I try to make sure that the family is first, but your kids can definitely rip your heart out,” Kolochuk says. “My kids like to remind me that I’m not home every night, so you also have to work through that as a woman and be OK with that, which is hard.”
There are times when juggling all the responsibilities of home and work can hold some women back from pursuing their own dreams.
“Women have to do what’s best for them as well as their families,” she says. “You need to set goals for yourself and make sure that you’re doing what you want to do to.”
But it’s not an easy thing for most women to do when they are torn in so many different directions by family and work pressures. For Kolochuk, meeting regularly with a CEO coach has helped her to prioritize and focus on important tasks and stay on track with both her personal and professional goals.
“The first thing we look at is if there is anything on my list that doesn’t move Peak of the Market forward, move me forward, and add more value,” she says. “If it’s not in that bucket, it needs to be taken off of my list and moved to someone else. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t get done; it just means that the CEO shouldn’t be doing it.”
Being successful in a man’s world is not easy.
Being a successful woman in a man’s world hasn’t always been easy, Kolochuk admits, and she has had to learn how navigate through with humility and patience over the years.
“You have to be OK with it not being OK all the time,” she says. “You have to be humble enough to walk away and know what’s worth it and what’s not. I think that’s what has given me the respect from a lot of people in the industry.”
She feels that respect starts by not being afraid to meet people, regardless of gender, where they are at.
“I don’t want to separate myself as just being a woman,” she says. “Not to say that women don’t need to be elevated, I fully believe that. But at the same time, I think that if we separate ourselves from the men, it makes things harder than by joining them. Maybe you’re not joining them at the same level or joining them in the same beliefs, but if you are able to create a relationship with them and have them respect you it goes a long way.”
Kolochuk believes that men and women have much to learn from each other in the agricultural industry and that MWAF does a good job of trying to bring many different perspectives together.
“I think more can be done than just bringing women in that are like myself or others, but also men in agriculture,” she says. “There are lots of men that are supporters of diversity that could be talking to a group like this. I think those tools are available whether it’s a man or a woman talking to a group like MWAF. It’s always more relational when it’s a woman but I think men have great perspective as well because you’re going to be working with them and they have insight into things and ways that we don’t see.”