Jemma Allan isn’t afraid to drive the rock truck.
She’s good at the controls of an excavator, too.
In fact, she’s comfortable around all heavy equipment.
“When I was growing up, my dad had a construction and demolition company, so I was always exposed to heavy equipment and it’s served me well in my career.”
Allan is vice-president of Kelowna-based Fireside Minerals.
"I know. I’m this short, blonde girl in an executive position in mining, an industry dominated by older men,” she said.
“It comes with its challenges.”
One of those challenges is some men she deals with in business wonder out loud why she’s the vice-president of a mining company.
Some go as far as to ask her to fetch her husband, father or the man in charge, so they can deal with someone who knows what they are talking about.
“They soon find out I am the one in charge and I know what I’m talking about,” said Allan with a laugh.
“Once we get that over with, the men know I’m knowlegable and we can move on.”
Fireside Minerals is based in Kelowna, but it mines barite near Fireside, B.C. which is close to the Yukon border at Watson Lake.
Barite is a dense and heavy white rock that, when ground up, is used by the oil and gas industry as part of the mud that goes down drilling holes to prevent oil or gas from flaring up.
Fireside not only mines the barite, but crushes and mills it into a powder and packages it in 40-kilogram bags for sale to oil and gas companies in Northern B.C. and Northern Alberta.
While Allan works out of company head office in Kelowna, she visits the mine three times a year for a week at a time, which is when she’ll run the rock truck or excavator.
Fireside is a family business, started by Allan’s father-in-law, Doug Allan, a fiancial adviser from Red Deer who was one of the founding investors.
Over the years, Doug Allan has bought out most other investors and brought in his son, Andrew, Andrew’s wife Jemma and Jemma’s father, Cliff Cowin.
Cowin moved the family from the Isle of Man, near England, to West Kelowna when Jemma was 16.
At Okanagan College, Jemma met her future husband Andrew and they both earned business degrees.
Andrew is president of Fireside, and after starting as the bookkeeper, Jemma became vice-president.
They have two sons, Leo, 6, and Max, 2, who are already being exposed to the family business when Jemma takes them up to the mine for a week at a time once or twice a year.
As a couple, and family, they ski at Big White, snowmobile and do yoga.
Fireside donates to the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation’s Giving Giggles and JoeAnna’s House campaigns.