Connie Grenz, who is believed to be the first female to head a major wood-related business in the U.S., spoke Wednesday at the 13th annual Women in Timber Luncheon at the Kane Country Club.
Grenz is retiring at the end of the month after serving as general manager at Kane Hardwood for the past 11 years.
In moving from Kane back to her hometown of Vancouver, Wash., Grenz said she will be leaving "an incredible industry." She said she also will miss the people she has worked with and the friends she has made.
"It always falls down to people," Grenz said.
The annual luncheon is sponsored by the Kane-based Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group (AHUG). About 30 attended the event.
Sue Swanson, executive director of AHUG and a longtime personal friend of Grenz, told the women at the luncheon that the guest speaker "blazed ground for all of us" in the timber industry.
Swanson said she admires Grenz for her ability to "analyze her people and their skills."
"She actually knows why things are the way they are," Swanson said.
Grenz, who has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Portland, Ore., said the Kane Hardwood operation relies on "total teamwork" for its success.
Grenz said the company several years ago conducted a jobs skills assessment that led to an incentive program for the employees. She said there are three different ways for employees to qualify for a bonus.
To personalize the system, Grenz said she "personally hands out bonus checks every month" and "shakes hands" with the workers.
According to Grenz, the development of "emotional intelligence" is a key in the success at Kane Hardwood.
She said emotional intelligence is "a different kind of smart" that requires people to "know yourself and how you should relate to others."
"How do I manage in a man's world? It's through the emotional intelligence part," Grenz said.
Due to poor economic conditions, Kane Hardwood has had to find ways to cut costs, Grenz said. She said many key company employees have taken on additional duties and "a lot more jobs."
During her career at Kane Hardwood, Grenz has been responsible for initiating the "evaluation of operations that resulted in equipment upgrades throughout the sawmill and dimension operations," according to AHUG. AHUG said the upgrades resulted in "increased production and efficiency" at Kane Hardwood.
The Kane Chamber of Commerce will honor Grenz as its Citizen of the Year at its annual banquet April 28 at the Kane Country Club.