From Aquatic Biologist to Division Manager: Kelly Wells’ journey at CanNorth 

Joining Canada North Environmental Services (CanNorth) as an Aquatic Biologist was the dream job for Kelly Wells post-university, offering her summers in the field in Northern Saskatchewan.  

 Now, fast forward 22 years, Kelly stands as CanNorth’s Environment Division Manager, where she finds joy mentoring budding biologists. Moreover, she is pivotal in CanNorth’s operations and management teams. 

Even as a child, Wells had a clear vision: a career in the environmental field. Her summers were often spent at the family cottage, where she developed a love for fish biology and the tranquil waters. For Wells, the allure of a new adventure triumphs a desk job any day. 

During her early years, guidance came from a senior fisheries biologist, a colleague of her father. “I talked to her about consulting and the kind of work she did. She really inspired me to delve into consulting. I love the pace, the diversity, the blend of field and office work, and the applied science aspect,” she recalls. 

CanNorth emerged as the perfect fit for Wells. Beginning as a modest venture, the company grew conservatively. With only four employees when Wells joined in 2001, the scope of work was broad. “I learned quickly. From the start, I dove into cost estimates, project management, and client relations. But I also found myself mending fish nets and conducting fish surveys,” she recounts. It’s this diverse environment that sustained Wells’ interest in consulting over the years. 

Now, CanNorth boasts a family of 90 employees, with many women occupying senior positions, and their operations and management teams are predominantly women. I’m surrounded by competent, amazing women,” she beams. While Wells acknowledges the persisting challenges for women in the workplace, she’s found an egalitarian atmosphere at CanNorth. 

Being part of the Kitsaki group of companies significantly contributes to CanNorth’s triumphs, according to Wells, and garners various advantages. The entity’s Indigenous ownership attracts individuals keen on being part of such a unique establishment.  

“Kitsaki and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band are hugely supportive, with Chief Tammy Cook-Searson serving as a global role model for women,” she said. 

For Wells, the job has been a source of fantastic “moments”, especially her time spent in the north, around Lake Athabasca and Uranium City area. “I learned immensely from the locals, both on personal and professional fronts… I fell in love with Northern Saskatchewan, the lake, and the remoteness,” she reminisces. 

Looking back, what captivated her as a child hinted at her destined path. She opted for a boutique company like CanNorth with robust leadership, sustainable hiring practices, room for growth, and a varied workload. And she has never looked back since. 

Steering through challenges: Malhotra’s journey to the top at March

In 2012, an engineering manager at a well-established electrical engineering firm found herself at a career crossroads when approached for the position of Director, Power and Controls at March Consulting Associates Inc. (March). After numerous discussions with the then CEO and her family, Ritu Malhotra decided to take on the new challenge.

Upon joining March, she immediately dove into managing a large team for two significant projects that spanned the next few years. By 2015, as the current leadership neared retirement, she was presented with the opportunity to step into a larger leadership role as the Vice President of Operations. This promotion came at a time when the Saskatchewan mining and heavy industrial sector was facing an economic downturn, making the subsequent years quite turbulent for the industry.

Then, in 2017, she was asked to take the helm of March, transitioning to the role of President and CEO by 2018. Under Malhotra’s leadership, along with the resilient March team, the company not only weathered the downturn but grew its client base, leading to significant growth. Over the past five years, March has opened two additional office locations and achieved almost 300 per cent growth in revenue.

Reflecting on her journey, Malhotra shared that the key lessons she’s learned are the importance of seizing opportunities and making tough decisions, even when the timing may not seem perfect. Her values play a crucial role in guiding her decisions, emphasizing “that standing firm on one’s values is a cornerstone for success, no matter the situation.”

When Malhotra transitioned into the CEO role with March, a new set of challenges arose, particularly around ensuring the company’s financial sustainability during another industry-wide downturn. With the collective effort of the March team, they rebuilt the business piece by piece, laying the foundation for the robust organization that March is today.

The pandemic, undoubtedly a challenging period, also highlighted the strength and unity of the March team. “Their ability to adapt and continue growing during such an unprecedented time is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career journey thus far,” she says.

Malhotra’s work goes beyond March, as the Chair of the Board for the Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Suppliers Association (SIMSA), bringing her expertise and vision to an organization pivotal to the province’s industrial and mining sectors. She is a valued member of the Boards of SaskTel and Karnalyte Resources, contributing to their strategic direction, and she also brings her insights to the North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA), fostering the local business community.

Malhotra’s tenure on the University of Saskatchewan’s Board of Governors from 2017 to 2023 is a chapter that not only exemplifies her governance expertise but also showcases her capacity to drive meaningful progress. As the Chair of the Land and Facilities committee, she was instrumental in steering pivotal infrastructure and planning initiatives.

“If I had to pick one key initiative that I am proud of as Chair of the Land and Facilities committee, it was the initiation and creation of the USask Properties Land Trust, which guides the long-term strategy to develop a new source of revenue for the university.”