Announcing the recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement
Emmie Leung—entrepreneur, industry leader, pioneer
The Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize graduates who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in their professional and personal lives. Join us May 5, 2016 at the Celebration of Excellence where we’ll honour our 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, including Emmie Leung [BComm(Hons)/76].
A pioneer in the waste and recycling industry, Leung sees possibility everywhere—even in garbage bins. With her University of Manitoba commerce degree, she started a one-woman recycling operation and grew it into a $100 million family of companies that’s shaped how we protect the planet for future generations.
Coming to Winnipeg from Hong Kong on her own as a young student, Leung forged her own path, surviving off rice and Cheese Whiz. Now, Emterra Group employs close to 1,000 people and sells more than 500,000 tonnes of recycled commodities annually.
IN HER OWN WORDS
I’m the type of person that if I want to do something, nobody can stop me.
If you want to do something and you are determined to do something, you find a way to overcome all obstacles and that’s what I always tell my children. First of all, you need to find what you want to do and once you set your goal, don’t stop. Just go for it.
Coming to Canada what I experienced was a culture shock. It is really, really cold and my first weather air outside the airport, the chill went through my nostrils right into my head. That was a real culture shock. I had a warm jacket but I didn’t realize the cold air would be that cold in September.
The people are so nice in Winnipeg. I was brought up in a big metropolitan area, Hong Kong. You don’t talk to strangers and you don’t venture out at midnight as a woman. You just feel a wall. Here in Manitoba, every place I go to they open their arms and welcome me.
I overcame the hardship. It was tough. But I tend to say is ‘the hardship is bygone’. What I cherish is the future. And this is how I live my life.
If you have a set-back, you just stay on the course.
People tell me ‘You’re very stubborn’. I say, ‘Yes, you better believe it.’
The determination to go for your dreams—I think that is the most important thing in anybody’s life. If you have a dream, go for it and do it. Don’t stop. And overcome whenever it throws an obstacle in your way. This is very important.
My mother had very little means. She did not have an education but she made it work to make a nice home for us, a warm and caring home. My mother is a great inspiration to the way I conduct my life.
The waste industry is a very macho industry.
I believe that women need support in terms of peer groups and financing. We find that just because women are the minority, the bank and the financial institutions don’t really want to take risks with them. So some support in that area is important. Particularly for starting out. I have had a hard time at that time myself. I work around it. I work through it.
Learn as much as you can so you have a bag of tricks in your life that you can pull out when you need it. I enjoy learning. Everyday, I love to learn and every day I like to improve things.
Fun, to me, is the doing.
When I started this business, it was purely a means to make a living.
When I started my first plant [in 1980], I thought ‘Wow, I process it, I touch it, I ship recyclables.’
In the second year, I lost money and the bank called the loan. That was a big ‘wow’ to me. Setbacks are very important. I believed that I learned from it.
The biggest challenge in this business is finding the people with the right minds. Find a leader, find the right mind and the commitment and work together.
You need to inspire people.
I love to see my employees able to expand their horizons, to do the best they can whether with or without the company—at home, or if they go for another job. Because this is the talent that they have and they should use it and benefit themselves and benefit the economy, the world, society.
When I see some waste, my mind is sort of moving: How can we reuse it? What are the possibilities?
I would like to do more.
The constantly trying to find answers—it’s in me.
I see a lot of young ladies coming in to our field and lots of young ladies in business in the environmental field but again we still have the CEO, the president, the COO—all of these senior level positions—with a lack of ladies. They are in middle management—hey, nothing wrong with that—in 10 more years down the road, they will be at the senior level. That’s what I’m hoping for.
If you have a dream, go for it. Don’t stop.
Read more #UMDAA2016.
Thank you to our generous sponsor: The Personal.