A Special Series from NAWLA
Achieving professional goals in the lumber industry requires time, patience, hard work, and the ability to establish strong relationships.
After graduating from Oregon State University in 2005 with a finance major and an engineering minor, I began my search for a career offering a fast-paced and exciting work environment. I was fortunate that my godfather, Casey Mickelson, who at the time was president of Richmond International Forest Products, Glen Allen, Va., steered me in the direction of lumber wholesaling.
After meeting with several different companies, I chose to begin a career with Buckeye Pacific, Portland, Or., in 2005. I was 23 years old, working hard as a rookie trader to make connections and establish my business, when I met Grant Phillips, another young (26 years old) trader with similar career goals. Grant and I became fast friends and eventually business partners.
From 2010 to 2012, the lumber market improved and we established a thriving business together. It was in 2012 when Collins, a family-owned company with a storied history in production and ethical land management, approached us to start an integrated wholesale company. Our experience at Collins was critical in our growth in the lumber industry.
Now or Never
Grant and I discussed owning a business since we started trading in 2005. We also had a mutual understanding that should the “perfect” job present itself, we would part ways amicably and maintain our friendship. Ideally, though, we aimed to build a business together.
In late 2018, Grant’s father—Mike Phillips, former president of Hampton Lumber Sales—expressed an interest in returning to the business after a short stint in retirement. This was the perfect time for Grant, Mike and me to form Wildwood Trading Group in September of 2018.
Originally, we started with a handful of employees, but that quickly changed when Wildwood acquired the exclusive sales rights for the Vaagen Brothers sawmill. The legacy Vaagen employees were critical to the team’s success. The first year in business was a whirlwind filled with challenges and learning, but Wildwood accomplished the three main goals we had laid out for the year.
We look to continue our growth in 2020 and will hire the right people when the time arises. Although we will never be considered a huge trading floor, our goal is not to be big, but to be good.
Making It Happen
Wildwood is a youthful company, but we have extensive industry experience. There seems to be a shift in the industry toward younger men and women taking on leadership roles in their respective companies. I think that this trend will continue as long as these individuals remain hard-working, determined, and forward thinking with their goals.
- Be patient. The first few years in the lumber industry require a great amount of patience and hard work. When I started trading in 2005, I was told that the process of becoming a successful trader was very similar to earning a master’s degree. The first two years are spent developing relationships and learning the business. In the third year, customer relationships have been established and sales volumes naturally increase. Finally, in the fourth year, a solid business has been built and additional hard work will determine future success.
- Learn from the best. I was fortunate that my godfather, Casey Mickelson, introduced me to lumber trading and provided guidance from the moment I started at Buckeye Pacific. While with Forest City, Jeff Dill gave us the opportunity to build a department from the ground up; Craig Johnston and Scott Elston educated me on how to grow a wholesale trading business. At Collins, CEO Eric Schooler taught me a completely new aspect of the industry. He introduced me to lumber production and the process of manufacturing.
Throughout my time in lumber, Grant and I have been able to glean knowledge from Mike Phillips. He was persistent in telling us to “learn our customers’ business” and figure out how to be a solid asset for each customer. I am extremely thankful for all the mentors that I have had in the business.
- Build relationships. Building strong relationships is the most important element of success in this business. It is critical and exciting to meet the customers, suppliers, peers (even the competition); and it’s one of the reasons why this industry is so interesting.
At Wildwood, we emphasize the importance of getting involved in the industry associations, such as NAWLA. It is through these meetings and committees that you not only create professional connections but lifelong friends. Grant and I are a case in point. We started as business partners in 2006, and now Grant is the godfather or my 7-year-old daughter Blakely.
We share a mutual understanding that hard work will eventually pay off and that we each need to occasionally carry more than our share to perpetuate our combined success. In other words, “whoever has the hot hand needs the ball.”