Juggling business with writing: lunch with Anne Giardini

Anne Giardini | BCBusiness

Anne Giardini talks about her journey from forestry to books to academia—and her newfound love of bees

She may have given up the presidency of a U.S. forestry behemoth’s Canadian subsidiary, but don’t mention “retirement” to Anne Giardini. “I loathe the word,” the 55-year-old Vancouver lawyer says, grimacing. “It’s the opposite of everything I intend to do now; I love the word ‘reframing’ and will definitely continue to work.”

Arguably life is just as busy as during her two decades at Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd. Joining as general counsel in 1994—following a master of law at Cambridge University in the late ’80s and private practice in Markham, Ontario—Giardini became vice-president in 2006 and president two years later. Upon leaving the company last summer, she was installed as the chancellor of SFU (where she studied economics in the late ’70s); she is also a director of the World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Vancouver Board of Trade.


1. “I absolutely love Via Tevere (1190 Victoria Drive, Vancouver; via teverepizzeria.com)—it’s the closest to an actual Italian pizza in Canada.”

2. “You see chefs stretching and twisting the handmade noodles at Peaceful Restaurant (various Vancouver locations; peacefulrestaurant.com). It’s good food.”

3. “My children roll their eyes at my order—café latte, half caffeine, low fat, extra hot—at any Caffè Artigiano (various locations; caffeartigiano .com).”

“It’s hard to give up what you love, but I’m so fortunate to be able to have this new variety of work to do,” she says. Besides, forestry remains foremost in her thoughts. She is happy to proffer opinion on the sector, for example, from the recent takeover of 60-year-old Ainsworth Lumber Co. in 100 Mile House by Toronto’s Norbord Inc. (“Industries go through a cycle like this—of growth, diffusion and consolidation”) to predicting a smooth renegotiation of the 2006 Canada/U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement when it expires in October (“It provides certainty for both sides and a reliable flow of forest products to consumers at reasonable prices,” she says, adding the uptick in U.S. housing starts indicates the sector is “coming back quite robustly”).

Giardini is also in the early stages of working out ways forestry companies can be actively involved with her latest project which, she hopes, will involve a coordinated program with both the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (an organization promoting sustainable forests across North America) and WWFC: to see bees thriving where trees have recently been felled. “Who knew that was the case?” says the mother of three grown-up children, sipping turkey-and-peanut soup at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The trick, believes Giardini, who is on the board of the SFI, is to encourage “legacy retention”: a tool foresters use to promote ecological features, such as nectar-providing fireweed, that are favourable to bees and other insects. “I really want to see the dial move more meaningfully—tangibly, demonstrably—to promote these small creatures that we often don’t think about but on whom our whole ecosystem depends.”

Along with her work on sustainable forests, Giardini’s business smarts will also be mined during her three-year term at SFU. She insists, however, that it will be mutual: the Shaughnessy resident feels the institution’s entrepreneurial spirit “fires up new areas of my brain.”

As the daughter of the late author Carol Shields, she is no slouch in the writing department, either. A former National Post columnist from 1998 to 2001 and current patron of the Vancouver International Writers Festival, Giardini penned The Sad Truth about Happiness in 2005 and Advice for Italian Boys four years later. Now, in between travelling with her husband, Tony (he’s CFO of Toronto-based mining company Kinross Gold), and her new love of yoga (six days a week), she has scheduled time to collate a book—just sold to Random House—from Shields’s writing archive.

Adding that she’s always written, there’s no doubt growing up with such a feted novelist helped Giardini’s own ability. “It’s like being the butcher’s son—you know the process from carcass to sausage and are not daunted by it,” she says. “You see the work and not the glamour.”