Lakehead University Alumni Magazine

Alumni Profile: Ian McCormack

His passion for forestry is a family tradition

Tracey Skehan
Published February 02, 2015
truck close up with man standing by the passenger door
George McCormack's distinguished forestry career included serving as the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources for Northern Ontario before retiring in 1988
Above: Forestry grad Ian McCormack (HBScF'82) is a civic leader who's currently Chair of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Chair of the Thunder Bay International Airports Authority

Ian McCormack grew up in northern Ontario around planes, canoes, helicopters, and woodland operations – inspiring a lifelong love of the outdoors.

His father George was a forester who began his career in logging camps, which meant that the McCormack family moved around a lot. But Ian reveled in this nomadic existence. "It created a sense of adventure and an ability to be flexible," he says, "I understood that life is not always predictable." His father was also an alumnus of the Lakehead Technical Institute – one of Lakehead University's predecessors – and graduated in the 1950 Forest Technician charter class.

When Ian finished high school, he was keen to study at Lakehead like his father because the School of Forestry was one of the top two schools in Canada. Ian describes his student days "as a fabulous four years with a tremendous mix of science, theory, and applied learning."

The strong camaraderie of the forestry students bound them together. "Although we had 36 hours a week of class time, we played every single intramural sport known to man and woman." They also had an intense rivalry with the engineering students and often staged night raids to paint the engineers' cannon green.

Lakehead University's 50 year anniversary logo

50th Anniversary Memories

Who were your favourite bands while you were at Lakehead?

It was a combination of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Eagles, and Gordon Lightfoot.

Was there a particular course or professor that stood out?

Professor Blair's Woodlands Harvesting class was always my favourite because I aspired to go into woodlands operations.

What is your most vivid Lakehead memory?

The day our School of Forestry leather jackets came in was one of my most exciting days. We wore those jackets 24/7 for four years.

What are your thoughts on Lakehead's 50th Anniversary?

I'm really proud to be a graduate of the HBScF class of '82 and I'm looking forward to seeing my classmates during the 50th Anniversary Homecoming Weekend.

"Although we had 36 hours a week of class time, we played every single intramural sport known to man and woman."
– Ian McCormack

After graduation, Ian worked for Great Lakes Forest Products and its successor companies before running his own forestry consulting firm. He's found it rewarding to have been involved in the full cycle of forest management, saying, "I've always considered foresters to be the true environmentalists because we operate a genuinely renewable resource."

In 2004, Ian was hired by Wardrop Engineering in Thunder Bay. "When I started there, Wardrop was a privately-owned company of about 400 people that wanted to expand into the forest industry," Ian explains. "I helped build their relationships as well as acting as a senior forestry consultant."

"I've always considered foresters to be the true environmentalists because we operate a genuinely renewable resource."
– Ian McCormack

He ended up as a Wardrop partner and co-owner. "To me this was the ultimate comic irony – a forester being a partner in an engineering firm," Ian says. Wardrop evolved into a company of talented people and great leaders with 1,200 employees on five continents before being acquired by the U.S. firm Tetra Tech.

group photo with everyone gathered on a picnic table by a lake
The McCormack's have deep Lakehead connections – Ian's daughter Gillian is a grad and his mother Betty has a Lakehead Library Technology diploma. His older brother Scott is Lakehead's ombudsperson
Back row (l-r): Ian, Ian's brother Scott, nephew Ben, brother-in-law Don, sister Elizabeth
Front row (l-r): Ian's son Graeme, daughter Gillian, mother Betty, niece Rebecca

Ian has now embarked on a new journey – the launch of Compass, an executive coaching and strategy business. His shift in this direction happened gradually as he began to work more and more as a problem-solver and leadership coach at Tetra Tech. "Serving and supporting others' success became the reason I got up in the morning," he says. In 2010, Ian enrolled in Royal Roads University's Executive Coaching graduate program while continuing to work full time.

Since October 2014, Compass has been Ian's primary focus. His clients are senior executives and promising intermediate-level employees who want a "thinking partner" to enhance their leadership abilities and provide clarity to deal with workplace challenges and achieve their professional goals. Ian sees his Lakehead years as a catalyst for his impressive achievements. "It was a great education that gave me the tools to be successful."

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