Author: sarahfirminger

Liezl van Wyk, Senior Vice President of Northern Operations awarded Canadian Biomass Thought Leader of the Year

Liezl van Wyk, Senior Vice President (SVP) of Drax’s Northern Operations has been named Thought Leader of the Year by Canadian Biomass for her exceptional leadership, commitment to safety and efforts to drive positive change in the industry. 

Liezl has served as SVP of Northern Operations since 2022 where she oversees Canada’s largest pellet plant grouping and has consistently pursued operational excellence while prioritizing safety as a core value.  

As a female executive in a traditionally male-dominated field, Liezl is dedicated to fostering diversity and inclusion within the industry by encouraging and inspiring female to pursue careers in STEM fields. 

As part of the awards ceremony, Canadian Biomass asked Liezl some questions about her experiences in the industry and advice for other professionals: 

  1. What made you decide to pursue a career in this industry?

When Drax approached me to join them as the SVP for their Northern Operations, I was ecstatic. I was not too familiar with this industry at the time, but was drawn in because of Drax’s company values and vision for a Carbon Negative future through their sustainability and carbon capture and storage programs. At this point in my career, I wanted to apply my diverse experiences, energy and education in a meaningful way. What Drax is pursuing through their biomass, power generation and BECCS programs fully aligned with my goals and I was inspired by company leadership who were driving these ambitions goals forward. I wanted to be part of that.

I also found that all my prior career experiences came together well in this one role. I spent time in power generation, shipping, renewables, mining and resource development. All different industries. I was able to directly apply my experiences in these adjacent industries into the Biomass world with a fresh perspective.

  1. If you had to narrow it down to one or two things, what would you say has been the highlight of your career to date?

With Drax in my role as SVP Operations, one of the highlights for sure has been our continued progress in making Pellet Mills safer through further investment in Process Safety, Safety protocols and team development. You cannot do Operations well without a very solid Safety foundation to build on. This is always step one and a key value for Drax as a company.

From an overall career perspective over the past 30 years, I have been fortunate to work in many industries in over 10 countries. This has afforded me great personal and professional growth and allowed me to work on very interesting projects with very interesting people.

  1. How do you feel about the future of the industry?

I think the Biomass industry is developing and diversifying in new and complex ways. There are several structural shifts happening which make it intellectually and economically interesting. Responsible resource management is a key theme and central to the climate change discussion. Biomass is an essential pillar in this strategy and the industry is developing to position it along those lines. So, my view is that this is a key industry to participate in and ensure we are good custodians of the limited resources.

  1. What’s your advice to the next generation of professionals who hope to follow in your footsteps?

Everyone has a different journey through life. Opportunities present themselves in different ways. However, the common themes often apply, no matter where you live or work. Aim for a good education as foundation, stay focused and work hard, be honest and expose yourself outside your comfort zone. Pick up best practices along the way, learn from people that inspire you, learn from your failures emotionally and intellectually. Figure out which parts of your personality are your strengths and bring that to your job. And always treat people with respect.