Many a lumber insider wound up here because they tripped, slipped and fell into the industry. My steps were a little more ordered, I think, even though I didn’t grow up in a lumber family with a mill as my sandbox. In fact, I grew up on a golf course in Georgia; and my dream was to become an investment banker on Wall Street! My dreams and I went off to Georgia Southern to study finance; but experience after experience—step after step—kept pointing me toward my destiny.
First Steps: Crawl Before You Walk
Maybe the biggest factor was the horrible job market, compliments of the economic downturn, that was waiting for me once I came out of college in December 2008. You might even say that I partially owe the financial crisis for where I’m at today. The employment outlook was awful. With no prospects, I instead did what I loved: GOLF. Ummm, a lot.
Out there on the green, I spent a lot of time thinking about my next move. It dawned on me that I’d always loved the outdoors and that, because I dabbled in carpentry with my dad, I enjoyed working with my hands. I also recalled my experience working at a foreclosure company, which gave me some exposure to the housing aspect of wood products, during my undergrad years. Just like that, it hit me: wood products… CHECK! It was a natural match, I was sure, so I started researching my options and possibilities.
The first step, I decided, was more schooling. Ticking through a list of programs, I chose Oregon State, whose curriculum was grounded in forestry but also incorporated the business side of the industry. There were only a handful of other people in my class, but I knew I was there for a reason. My time in Oregon also included working for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for six or seven months.
Additionally, I had a job “cruising timber.” The consulting firm that hired me sent crews into forests from California to Washington to evaluate timber for valuation and fire-burned areas for litigation purposes. These experiences helped reinforce my purpose.
Not long before graduation from Oregon State, I attended a career fair. I strolled around until one recruiter invited me to meet his boss—who happened to be John Murphy of the Murphy Co. Everybody in the industry is familiar with the brand and its namesake, and I was lucky enough to be in his sightline just when I needed to be. Part of my destiny? I like to think so, but I also take credit for having the initiative to press forward. After graduating in June 2012, I went straight to work for Murphy, and it’s the best decision I ever made.
Next Steps: Finding Your Cadence
I spent seven or so years with Murphy, and I feel I owe so much to John. He propelled me, introduced me to top executives, got me involved in NAWLA, and gave me a vast amount of opportunity. Under his tutelage, I gained experience in operations management, manufacturing, transportation, sales, and more. But I wanted to continue to drive my career. So when a company called Lumin LLC—which, ironically enough, is owned by a huge investment banker—persistently approached me, I eventually answered the call.
It took a while for me to come around, in part because I wasn’t sure why Lumin pursued me so aggressively. A South American firm, its focus is plywood, hardwood, and softwood—whereas my career had been built on engineered lumber. I was intrigued that someone recognized my potential and was willing to take a chance on my skills, versus my past. I knew if I wanted to continue to move forward and learn new products and new processes, I had to give it a go. In April 2019, I signed on with Lumin, which maintains all of its operations in Uruguay. I am the company’s lone sales rep in North America, handling all imports onto the continent.
Obviously, there’s no need for a physical office for a single employee, so I’m blessed with the perk of telework. I get to be home with my wife and our baby boy, but I also get to travel the world. I visited Uruguay for a month last year to get oriented with my new position and, assuming a return to normalcy after the pandemic ends, will probably travel there at least annually. I also get to visit our owners’ offices in Atlanta and New York as well as all of my customers across North America and attend a couple of conventions (under normal circumstances) each year.
Future Steps: No Marching in Place
But I’m far from complacent. I believe in continuous improvement in myself as well as my organization. I want to be a titan of the wood products industry—I was born for this! I look back and think of everything that brought me to this point: working at a foreclosure firm, working with my hands, getting a finance degree, certifications in Lean courtesy of my father, working at BLM, cruising timber, my degree in forestry, working for Murphy with three different product lines, working the mill to learn the processes, learning the domestic side with Murphy, going to the international side with Lumin, learning the distribution chain throughout the United States, learning the manufacturing side, and getting involved with NAWLA… and it’s clear to me that I ended up right where I was supposed to.
Still, after learning all you can in each process, it’s natural to want to continue to challenge yourself and others. I have a lot of drive and knowledge, and I want to use that to help improve practices, sales, and operations.
I also want more involvement with NAWLA. This year starts the clock on my first term with the Education Committee. I put my name in the hat because it is important to show young people just coming into the industry what wood products is all about and to share other people’s stories with them—including mine, as a younger member of the industry. I also think it’s key to try to reach students and market to people who aren’t in the industry. I can’t wait to bring my knowledge, background, and passion to the table and add a new face and vibe to the mix.
NAWLA is also a great way to connect with others. The organization is full of people that everybody knows—that’s what I want. But I don’t just want to be known…I want to be known for something. A lot of people get phased out of this industry. They get in, give it a try, decide it’s not for them, and exit after a few years. I want to be the guy that says, “yeah, I’ve been in this industry for 30 years…but I’ve done this, this, this, and this!” And I know it’s possible—for me, and for anybody who recognizes and embraces the opportunities in this industry, does the research, and orders their steps to take them where they want to go.