A Special Series from NAWLA
My humble beginnings in the wood industry took root decades ago, sprouting a brief but meaningful and deeply gratifying career. “Life” intervened, but after a bit of a hiatus, I eventually found myself coming full circle, back to the work I love most.
When I think of how, even after stacking up credentials in a completely different field, I still ended up here, my mind always goes to the timeless Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” Don’t let the title fool you! While it may not do my story justice from that standpoint alone, several passages do speak to me and my experience with this truly special industry.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… and be one traveler long I stood.”
The long, winding old Pike County road weaved its way through seemingly endless, empty fields. Small shavings of sawdust begin to float onto my little car’s windshield, and the smell of pine filled the air. I had a job interview with Cavenham Forest Industries, and I began to wonder if maybe I had lost my way. Suddenly, the road veered to the left and, out of the blue, there it was—a magnificent manufacturing megacenter. It was on this summer day in 1987, at 19 years of age, that I began the first leg of a wonderful journey with yellow pine wood.
I started as a receptionist at the lumber sales office in Fernwood, Ms. Cavenham was acquired by Weyerhaeuser soon after I was hired, and within a few weeks, I was promoted to the transportation department. I immediately fell in love with the jovial laughter and camaraderie of the trucking world, and I developed a huge level of respect for their invaluable contribution to our industry.
I didn’t realize it at the time but, looking back, I now know that our sales manager was a human resources genius who allowed each of us to shine in our individual roles. I was so young and wet behind the ears, and the whole sales team were amazing mentors to me. Our manager saw my love for reading and provided me with recommended (sometimes mandatory!) literature written by the business greats including Covey, Drucker and Goleman. He encouraged all of us to have fun and, oh boy, we did!
If you are reading this article and were in the lumber business in the late 1980s and early 1990s, you are familiar with Weyerhaeuser’s marvelous customer weekends on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We knew that building loyal customer relationships and seeing our customers as partnership clients in the building products industry was paramount to success. We were a lean, mean sales machine and a learning, loving family. I was blessed to grow and thrive at Weyerhaeuser for five fabulous years.
“… and sorry I could not travel both… I doubted if I should ever come back.”
In 1993, my roles as wife and mother took me in new directions. It was necessary for me to move out of Mississippi and leave my job at Weyerhaeuser. However, it was as if I had attained an Ivy League education while there because every communication, coordination and customer service skill that I learned in the lumber world stuck with me as I followed new career paths.
From 1993 to 1999, I worked in the healthcare industry in a variety of leadership roles. Slowly and steadily earning college credits while working and raising my children opened the way to another new career in education. From 1999 to 2014, I taught high school language arts, which enabled me to be alongside my children every single day through their primary and secondary school years.
“… Yet knowing how way leads on to way…”
“Well, I’ll be damned, Bridgett Lowe, is that you!?” proclaimed the voices of two of my old Weyerhaeuser sales cronies whom, of course, I recognized immediately! It was March of 2014—21 years since I had seen them last. We were at a Mardi Gras dance all the way back in our hometown stomping grounds Fernwood, Ms. Above the laughter and music, we caught up on our lives and shared all the twists and turns of our careers. They had both been recently pulled out of retirement to sell lumber again for the Joe N. Miles mills in Bogalusa, La., and Silver Creek, Ms. And guess what they needed right away? Yep, a dispatcher and a little help with sales!
“… then took the other just as fair because it was grassy and wanted wear.”
My first love—lumber—had somehow magically landed back into my life. It was as if I had never left. Today, in 2020, numerous changes have occurred. Technologies have revolutionized many areas of our business, most noticeably in the trucking world. I no longer serve as a dispatcher, but I keep in touch and greatly admire the tenacity of our trucker and rail partners. In 2016, Hood Industries bought the two Miles lumber mills, and the Hood lumber department welcomed me into their sales family in Hattiesburg, Ms. I absolutely love being a part of this wonderful company.
Hood manufactures plywood and lumber at six sawmills located in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia. Our customers rely on every single one of us at to provide high-quality products and excellent client service. Every day, I reflect on the old lessons that I learned from Weyerhaeuser. In addition, thanks to the Hood Education Assistance Program, I continue to read extensively to study new and better ways to build lasting customer-client relationships. No words can describe how thankful I am to be a part of Hood and the wonderful lumber industry.
My favorite thing to do is to bring our customers to visit the sawmills, smell the sawdust, and watch the wood go from log to lumber. I love to listen and learn how our customers take our pine products and use them in different applications. As we all move forward together facing new diverging roads, we keep on growing, sawing, selling and shipping the natural, sustainable resource of yellow pine wood.