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Diana Fuller Henninger – Entrepreneur of the Year

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Spring 2014

 

By Jonathan Migneault

 

Diana Fuller Henninger doesn’t see herself as an ambitious person, but the casual observer might think otherwise.

Henninger moved to Sudbury in 1978 as a young lawyer.

“There was something about the energy of Sudbury that appealed to me so much,” she said. “Sudbury just has so much opportunity for people. No one is going to stop you because you didn’t go to the right school, or you don’t have the right credentials.”

She became Northern Ontario’s first female assistant crown attorney, and has blazed her own trail ever since.

In 1979, she met Manfred Henninger, the man who would become her husband, on a blind date.

They fell in love and had three children, who are all successful in their own fields.

While Henninger said she is not ambitious, she admitted she can be competitive, and likes to throw herself into new challenges.

Early in her career she took a sabbatical and moved to Quebec City, where she completed a masters of law in French.

Eight years later, Henninger took another sabbatical, and moved to Germany with her family, where she got to study overseas, and give her children new experiences.

But Henninger’s biggest challenge, was arguably when she took over her husband’s company in 2009.

Manfred Henninger founded Henninger’s Diesel Ltd. In 1970. The company refurbishes large industrial diesel engines for mining companies.

A diesel engine’s life might be 10,000 hours, but through Henninger’s Diesel an engine can have several lives, and extend it’s value past 50,000 hours.

The company started refurbishing German Deutz engines, but has since expanded to smaller Japanese engines from Toyota and other companies.

Manfred was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2000. The disease, which causes muscle weakness and eventual atrophy, often has a prognosis of no more than five years. There is no cure.

While Manfred remained active for several years, and was able to go skiing with his son in Sweden in 2003, he stopped going to work in 2004, and died the next year.

The company’s main manager had already taken over most of the day-to-day duties of leading the company when Manfred became ill, and had fully inherited those duties by the time he stopped coming to work.

Diana, who knew nothing about diesel engines at the time, also came in on a regular basis to learn more about the company’s daily activities.

When the top manager took an early retirement, she decided to step down from her career as a lawyer, and took over the company.

“It was a natural choice for me to take early retirement and come here,” she said. “Everybody does what they have to do.”

While Henninger admits she’ll never be an expert on diesel engines, she said she was able to contribute to the company in other ways, and could look at the big picture, to diversify the company, find new export markets, and survive in a slumping mining market.

She said she leaves the mechanical expertise to her employees, who all have years of experience working on engines.

In addition to her new role leading Henninger’s Diesel Ltd., Henninger, who is the 2015 Influential Women entrepreneur of the year, has been a strong proponent for the Northern Water Sports Centre in Sudbury, and has led a fundraising initiative that has brought in $400,000 for the new centre, due to open in the summer of 2015.

 

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